Matthew7v13to23: A TREE AND ITS FRUIT

Introduction. Read Matthew7v13to23

I have dealt with several aspects of the sayings of Jesus found in Matthew7v13to23 in my series on Luke. See: Luke13v22to30 and Luke6v43to45.

In this exposition I am going to deal with the theme common to all three of Jesus' illustrations namely, the doom of the unbeliever. There is a character called Fraser in the comedy series, 'Dad's Army,' whose favourite declaration is, "Doomed, I say doomed! We are all doomed. DOOMED!" This, according to Jesus, is how it is going to be for very many. We can identify in the passage: A fatal decision, a fatal deficiency and a fatal departure.

(1) A fatal decision.

According to Jesus there are just two ways of life: the Narrow Way and the Broad Way. There are five characteristics of the Broad Way:

(a) It is the default way. Most people find themselves on this way because they have not entered through the narrow gate onto the narrow way. Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. Jn14v6. Jesus is the narrow gate, and a life of obedience to him, the narrow way that brings us at last to God the Father. John's gospel is full of similar statements to the one quoted.

Many, many men and women the world over, find submission to Jesus very unappealing and a life serving him too limiting. Consequently they find themselves, hardly without knowing it, on the broad way that leads to destruction.

(b) It accommodates a wide variety of belief. You can almost believe anything you like and progress unhindered and unobstructed down the broad way. Just consider the opinions about what happens after death held by the travellers on the broad way. Fanatical Muslims reckon if they blow themselves up along with a smattering of infidels paradise awaits. Plenty of smart folk in the universities of Britain consider the broad way ends in oblivion. A few seem to think that after death you are reincarnated from anything to a cockroach to a princess. Lots and lots of folk in the West have a sentimental view of death - so, dear old uncle Herbert - a decent old chap - well, he's died and gone straight to heaven to be re-united with aunt Hilda. Then, there are people who call themselves Christian, who think life after death is for spirits - whatever they may be!

(c) It is highly popular. The vast majority of people in Britain are on this way. It is these traveller's views that are broadcast in the media. I listen to a variety of discussion programs on the radio without ever hearing the point of view of an evangelical Christian. Day after day I read the Daily Telegraph without reading anything in defence of Christians who oppose gay marriage or abortion. Very little coverage is given to the appalling persecution of Christians in many countries of the world.

The crowds on the broad way draw comfort from being so many. Surely they can't all be wrong. Hardly anyone goes to church any more. Christianity is so old fashioned. Its stories are all right for children but no-one in their right mind believes them anymore. The world has moved on from Christianity. Has it really? Has mankind noticeably improved over the last one hundred years? Are the great Christian virtues outmoded? Are people content to live without hope of life beyond death? Who alone has conquered death and will give eternal life to those who love him?

I am afraid the masses on the broad way will discover one day there is no safety in numbers.

(d) It is undemanding. It is not hard to follow the broad road. You meet few obstacles or difficulties. Few doubts are experienced that it is, in fact, the right way.

The broad way, the modern way of scepticism, tolerance and sentiment is the approved way. There is little opposition to those that are on it. It is very different for those on the narrow way. John Bunyan describes this way in his once famous book, 'Pilgrim's Progress'. Christian, the pilgrim, encountered the Hill Difficulty, the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of Humiliation and Giant Despair's Dungeon.

(e) It ends in disaster. All those whose lives finish on the Broad Way will ultimately be destroyed. They will experience death and then, following the Judgment, the Second Death. See Article on Heaven and Hell.

Travellers on the Broad Road are doomed because they either ignore or reject God's route to life. They are not going to venture on the Narrow Way with its demands and restrictions.

Sometimes as I progress along a well-known route I see a very unwelcome sign: Road Closed. A second sign informs the motorist: Flooded Road Ahead. A third sign helpfully points in the direction of the Diversion. Motorists have been known to ignore these warning signs only to get swept away in the floods.

There are warning signs along the Broad Way: Road to Destruction, ROAD TO DESTRUCTION, ROAD TO DESTRUCTION, ROAD TO DESTRUCTION. Ignore these signs at your peril! Take the DIVERSION TO THE CROSS!

(2) A fatal deficiency.

What Jesus calls a bad tree has four characteristics:

(a) It may be found growing with good, productive trees or bushes. For example, a crab apple may have found its way into an orchard of prime English apples, buckthorn might be growing alongside a wild grape vine and briar and blackthorn occur together in many hedges. A child might easily mistake the black sloes of the blackthorn for the blackberries of the briar.

Jesus acknowledged in his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that both might well be growing together in the farmer's field. Consequently we cannot expect everyone who attends church to be a genuine Christian.

(b) Bad trees can bear a superficial resemblance to a good tree. There is not much to distinguish a crab apple from a cox orange pippin until the fruit is ripe. Both the grape vine and buckthorn have purple coloured fruit as does the sloe and blackberry.

There are many who purport to be Christians who are false disciples of Jesus. They may appear to be Christians. There are clergy in the Church of England who may enjoy the status, the ritual, the liturgy, the vestments - all the historical paraphernalia of the Anglican Church. I am afraid to say that even in some Reformed Baptist circles there are a few who worship the Authorised Version, delight in Calvinistic doctrine, rejoice in solemn sermons of inordinate length, impose a dull Sabbath on their children and conduct themselves with the utmost sobriety who bear little resemblance to Jesus who knew how to enjoy life.

Jesus likens some of these false Christian to both bad trees and wolves in sheep's clothing - and, not just wolves, but ferocious wolves. The liberal clergyman can do much damage to the church. Liberal bishops look the part. Decked out in their gorgeous robes they certainly give the impression of being set apart for the good of the church. However, their views on sin, the wages of sin, the Incarnation, the sacrificial death of Jesus, his bodily resurrection, the Final Judgment and the Bible do as much harm to the flock as a ferocious wolf let loose among the sheep.

Another group of barely disguised wolves bear some resemblance to Mr Chadband the nonconformist minister who features in Charles Dicken's, 'Bleak House'. Dicken's describes him thus: Mr Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile, and the general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. ...... Mr Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him, and he wanted to grovel; is in very much a perspiration about the head; and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them. Mr Chadband loves to hear himself speak, loves a free meal and loves the adulation of foolish women. I am afraid that there are pedlars of the prosperity gospel who if not much like Mr Chadband in the externals are certainly like him in his devotion to fine words, rich living and admiring females. One of the ways the exponents of the prosperity gospel cause great harm to individual sheep is to teach that when setbacks occur they are a consequence of sin - they are deserved.

A group of false Christians who caused havoc in the early church and have subsequently been well represented through the ages, even to the present day, are the legalists. Paul castigated the super apostles who made strenuous efforts to undermine his authority among the Corinthians. See: Exposition on 2Cor11v1to15. In his book, 'What's So Amazing About Grace', Philip Yancey lists all the things a member of the church of his youth needed to avoid to be a worthy Christian: alcohol, tobacco, films, make up, jewelry, Sunday papers, sport on Sundays, mixed bathing, short skirts if you were a girl and long hair if you were a boy. This list does not compare favourably with the kingdom values Jesus summarises in the Beatitudes.

(c) The bad tree is detected by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Jesus says: "Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them." Mt7v20. A genuine Christian should display the fruit of the Spirit listed by Paul in his letter to the Galatians: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal5v22. I would add to this list qualities Jesus includes in the Beatitudes: humility, repentance, desire to do good and purity of motive.

Let us just consider two of these virtues. A humble person will be forgetful of self, status, recognition and reward. They will tend to be overlooked, disregarded and taken for granted - as Jesus was for all those years he spent as a carpenter. Proud persons will be aware of their worth, promote themselves and push for recognition and reward. They will be ambitious and resentful of those who do better than them.

Kind persons will do as they would be done by. They will, like the Good Samaritan, be prepared to get involved. They will help those in distress in the very best way they can. Their help will usually be 'hands on', that is, practical in nature. The callous person will think exclusively of their own interests. They don't want to get involved if it is going to cost them something. Such help as they may offer will rarely be what is most needed, namely, practical assistance.

Dicken's, 'Bleak House', is very rich in characters. Besides Mr Chadband there is also poor Jo the crossing sweeper and Mr Snagsby the law stationer. Jo is a destitute and wretched orphan who earns a few pence sweeping road crossings free of horse manure. Mr Chadband tries to edify Jo with a sermon way over the abject youth's head. Mr Snagsby, the humble little stationer, from time to time - when his wife is not watching - slips Jo the occasional half-crown. Mr Chadband bears but bitter fruit; Mr Snagsby yields a few choice plums.

(d) A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It is not in its nature. It doesn't matter how hard it tries, a blackthorn bush will always bear sloes. A crab apple tree in an orchard of fine, Royal Galas encumbers the ground. The best thing to do is to grub it up and burn it. Such is the eventual fate of the false Christian.

(3) A fatal departure.

Those who make a fatal departure from the narrow way:

(a) May seem to be serving Jesus. They pay lip service to Jesus and at the Judgment will say, "Lord, Lord." However, there is more to being a faithful servant of Jesus than just using his name. There are plenty who perform in his name who are not true disciples.

(b) Do so by drawing attention to themselves. Jesus credits them with prophesy, casting out demons and performing miracles. It may seem incredible that people capable of such wonders are in the end disowned by Jesus. However, throughout the history of the church there have been those who claim to have a special message from the Spirit. Some, who make this claim, do so just to draw attention to themselves. They make up their message; its source is certainly not God. Many charlatans of this ilk reckon they have been told the precise date of Jesus' return notwithstanding the fact that Jesus himself did not know when it would be.

In the time of Jesus, and ever since, mental illness has been wrongly diagnosed as demon possession. A dramatic exorcism performed by a powerful personality might well produce a remission in the sufferer of a mental illness.

Other miracles of healing might also be explicable in terms of mind over matter. I have read, for example, of people under hypnosis undergoing an operation without feeling any pain. Hypnosis is used to cure people of phobias, obsessions and so on.

It is easy in services of healing for the healer to be pre-eminent. This can happen, too, where a service is led by a highly charismatic, flamboyant, emotional orator aided by careful lighting and a responsive audience.

(c) Have not been obedient to the will of God. They have digressed from the ethical teaching of Jesus found in his famous, Sermon on the Mount. Let us once again refer to the Beatitudes. God expects the subjects of his kingdom to be poor in spirit. They will serve Jesus without drawing attention to themselves. The Christian mourns the fact of abiding sin. He is aware of and confesses his shortcomings and many failings. The true disciple of Jesus is meek. He or she exerts self-control and does not indulge in gambling, gluttony and gossip. The genuine believer hungers to do good, and will satisfy this hunger by doing it.

(d) Are actual evil doers. Those who use the church to draw attention to themselves draw attention away from Jesus. If the leader gets glory, honour and praise little will remain for the one who should be our heart's delight. It should be the aim of every Christian teacher to direct men and women's attention to the perfections of Jesus. The great Victorian preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, scarcely preached a sermon without getting round to the saving work of Jesus. It didn't matter what the text, Jesus was sure to figure prominently in his message.

(e) Will be disowned by Jesus at the Judgment. Jesus' awful verdict will be: "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" 7v23.

How terrible to be disowned by the Lord of Glory; to go unknown into the eternal night; to be abandoned to the Second Death. How terrible, for if we belong to Jesus our eternal future is assured. We shall see him; we shall be like him; we shall be for ever with the Lord.