August 2 – Matthew 7:7-11
This week concludes our ten-week series on the Sermon on the Mount. I know January feels like a lifetime ago, but we started 2020 with a year-long focus on the Kingdom of God. Throughout the SOTM series we’ve been looking at Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom and viewing many different facets of being a citizen of that Kingdom. We’ll conclude discussion this week with a question reflecting on what we’ve learned together over the past ten weeks. I always think it’s worthwhile to finish a sermon series looking back on what we’ve gained, at the very least so we don’t forget why we’ve been reading these passages in the first place.
Remembering back to the structure of the latter half of the SOTM, this week we’re reading the second of two reassurance interludes, where Jesus follows up commandments with a reassurance of God’s loving care for us (you can see the full structure in the intro to week 5). For example, following his commands to not lay up treasures on earth (6:19-24), Jesus explained how the Father will continually provide for us because he loves us (6:25-34). Now following Jesus’ commands to be gracious, compassionate, and humble, which we looked at last week, Jesus explains that God will answer our requests and needs like the loving Father he truly is. Jesus uses an illustration of earthly parents, caring for their children out of love despite their own fallenness, to show how much more God cares for his children through his perfection. God is a loving Father who delights in providing for his children and who responds to their requests just like we do for our own children. In light of this we’re told some ways to understand how to keep coming to him. We’re told to keep asking for what we need, to seek after him, which describes investigation and pursuit, and to knock, which describes perseverance and patience while waiting for a response.
A phrase that might stir up some questions is “for everyone who asks receives.” Everyone? Does Jesus mean that every person, believer and non-believer alike, who prays to God with a request will receive what they ask for? That doesn’t seem to jive with much of Jesus’ other teachings, like just a few verses from now when he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”(7:21) That also likely contrasts with your lived experience, since I’m willing to bet there’s something you’ve asked God for that you never received. Does our not receiving what we ask for disprove Jesus’ teaching here? Luckily Jesus’ illustration helps us with both these questions. When it comes to the question of everyone in verse 8, note who Jesus is talking to: people who can call God Father. This is the “you” of verse 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” Other verses like John 9:31 support this difference in prayer between believers and non-believers. Regarding not receiving, God, as a perfect Father, has perfect desires and intentions for us that might run perfectly counter to our own desires and intentions. Preventing your toddler from picking up a snake they’ve found is good parenting. Saying no to your 15-year-old’s request for a Corvette is a good call for everyone’s sake.
Now, to be perfectly fair, both these explanations are rather simplistic. For the believer who keeps asking for food and remaining in poverty, the snake and Corvette examples fall flat. And God answers the prayers of non-believers all the time, most certainly when they’re prayers of repentance and pleas for salvation, like Nineveh’s repentance even when they were all raging pagans just the moment before (Jonah 3:5). God also gives good things to non-believers all the time—it’s not like all atheists are friendless and penniless. These holes in the argument reveal at the very least what we’re not supposed to do with this passage, which is trying to determine rules for how to get what you want from God and figure out where this divine requesting system might break down. Rather than telling you about how to get what you want from God, this passage tells you about God our Father, and to reassure you of his love for us.
But looking at the flow of the SOTM, why does Jesus reassure us of this specifically? Why does Jesus follow up his commands to be gracious, compassionate, and humble with an assurance that God responds to our asking, seeking, and knocking? Personally, I think it’s because being gracious, compassionate, and humble costs you something. It means often looking like a fool, like you’ve been taken advantage of, like you’re being soft on people. These days you might lose friends for being compassionate towards Black Lives Matter protestors, or for being compassionate towards folks who think COVID-19 is a total hoax. “Condemn not” in an age of condemnation and being generous in an age of greed truly costs you something. And when following Jesus costs us deeply, the fact that God responds to our asking, seeking, and knocking as a loving Father is a precious reminder to persevere.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Matthew 7:7-11 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• How do ask, seek, and knock describe how to approach God?
• Why do you think Jesus includes this illustration about bread and fish here?
• How does this description of God compare with your typical expectations of him?
• As we conclude our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, what do you think you’ve learned about God’s Kingdom over the last 10 weeks?