June 23rd, 2024 | Series: Sermon on the Mount – Part 3

This sermon discusses the principles of asking, seeking, and knocking as taught in Matthew 7:7-12, emphasizing prayer, human interaction, and reliance on God’s goodness rather than self-sufficiency or perceived personal worthiness.

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Good morning, friends. If you’re visiting, my name’s Alex, I’m one of the pastors here. It’s great to have you here. Just welcome to South Fellowship. If you have a text in front of you that you’d like to open up to, to follow along, we’re turning to Matthew chapter 7, verse 7, we’re going to read through verse 12.

In a moment, we’re in a series. On the Sermon on the Mount. Some people have described the Sermon on the Mount as a guide to human flourishing. It is the best way to live. It is a way to live with the heart of Jesus. The thing that we say on the wall outside, we’re living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, these words are that thing.

The Sermon on the Mount is some of the hardest ethical teaching to live up to. We’ve talked about things like love your enemy. Those are significant asks of a person. And yet the theory is this. If you live this way, you will find yourself living in the sweet spot of life. Doesn’t mean that life will be easy, but it will mean that you’re living as God designed you to live.

Part of the joy of following Jesus is not that we follow him just as a savior who died for us, but we follow him as a rabbi Who’s given us principles to live by. So when we read some of the stuff here and hopefully we’ve all over the course of this, like this has been like a year with some breaks now that we’ve been in this space.

Hopefully whatever your views are on different things, like politics and life in general, all those different areas Hopefully, there’s been things that Jesus have said that have rubbed you up the wrong way a little bit. They’ve messed with you just a little bit. And when that happens, one of the beautiful things we get to do is we get to say this, Do I believe that I am smarter than Jesus?

Do I believe that I have a better understanding of the way to live than he does, or am I willing to say, Jesus, I’m going to take your word as gospel is a great word for that, right? We’re going to trust that you know best how to live. Some of the passages have been challenging. This passage, while it has some challenges, I would suggest might be the most encouraging passage, not just in the Sermon on the Mount, but perhaps in all of scripture.

So here it is again. One more time. Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find Knock and the door will be opened to you for everyone who asks, receives. And the one who seeks finds and the one who knocks the door will be opened. Which of you? If your son asks for a bread, we’ll give him a stone.

Or if he asks for a fish, we’ll give him a snake. Some of you guys out there would think that was an amazing prank, by the way. I’m just gonna throw, I’m gonna throw a snake at the poor lad. I know you. If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. For this sums up the law and the prophets. Jesus, as we get into this word, as we unpack what you’re saying to us, as people in the 21st century, as to us as a community living in Littleton in the 21st century, help us to listen well. Help us for a moment to turn off the internal chatter, to gather our scattered senses, to listen for your voice in the midst of my voice.

Help us to take what is good and holy in yours and discard what is human and nonsense. Help us to grasp hold of you. Help us to live more in your way and heart than ever. Amen. Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives.

The one who seeks, finds. And the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What kind of teaching is this? When I read this for the first time, or second time, or fifth time, or tenth time, there’s one thing it makes me think of over and over again, and it’s this.

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all got Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime.

This verse says, just ask for what you want. Who would like a better car? Ask away. Who would like a color TV? If you still don’t have a color TV, get a hold of us, we’d love to help you out. But, the principle is right. It’s just ask, and you’ll get it. That means, after all of my years of jokes over the years, this guy, will.

was right. Joel was telling the truth. Just ask and you get it. I actually say that entirely as a joke because I actually think we give him a hard time for no reason. This, though, is the God is the vending machine theology. The cosmic vending machine. Just ask and you get what you want.

It reminds me of this story from about five years ago. four or five years ago. This is a gentleman called Luke Moore who lives out in Australia. He went to his bank and asked for some money, and they said yes. So he thought he’d ask again, and they said yes again, and again. It turned out that for whatever reason, whatever broken algorithm in their system, he was given unlimited credit.

He could just ask, and he could take. Is that What Jesus is saying, ask, seek, and knock, and you’ll receive. Is that this teaching? If you’ve been around the Sermon on the Mount for a while, you know that it probably isn’t. There’s probably some undercurrent story that we may be missing. The problem with this reading of this text is that we know it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work on multiple levels. Doesn’t work if you live in a country outside of the Western Hemisphere. Doesn’t work for a single mother in Haiti. Doesn’t work in so many of the environments that some of us have stepped into. But it also doesn’t work for you and I either. Because we know just based on childhood that we can ask to a degree that we don’t need and we can ask to a degree that is bad for us.

We want more and more stuff. We gather it around us. We eat more and more candy as children and eventually it makes us sick. And actually that, that principle that we’re supposed to learn at four and five is just as true. about the possessions we may gather around us when we hit 30 or 40. Eventually you have enough Mercedes and I would suggest the answer might be one.

But eventually you hit that level of you don’t actually need anymore. This teaching doesn’t work for most of the world and it doesn’t work when it happens. Instant wealth usually ends up at some point in the journey in disaster. So if this isn’t what Jesus is saying, if Janice Joplin isn’t channeling her inner Jesus when she wrote that song, then of course the question becomes, so what is Jesus saying?

What does Jesus mean when he says ask, seek, and knock? So a couple of things I’d love you to notice in the text. If you look at verses seven and verse eight, Jesus doesn’t actually start with prayer at all. That’s an inference we make really quickly, probably because we have some familiarity with the text.

I would suggest that Jesus actually begins with human to human interaction. Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will And the door will be opened to you. If you ask, you may receive from someone. If you find somebody who has resources that you need, and you make an ask of them, it may be that they will answer that need.

If you ask a friend, if you ask a family member, that may be a thing that happens. And I would suggest, actually, even that alone is a message in independent Colorado that we sometimes need to hear. Teresa joked in her announcements about being horrible at asking. I would say the same about myself. I don’t love to ask people for anything.

I love to feel independent, like I have everything together. A couple of years ago we had our fourth child, Leo, and when we were in the hospital thinking that he might be born on that day we realized that we had a need. We had nobody to come and stay with the other kids while Leo was born. It was the first time we were living in a state away from family and so one of our small group members came over and actually she stayed over with the kids.

She ended up sleeping on the floor in Jude’s bedroom so that if he woke up he wasn’t alone and we missed him. This beautiful moment, he he woke up and he looked across at the bed next to his and went, are you my mommy? She went no, I’m so and so from small group. But it shows like one, like it’s sometimes hard to make those asks.

There were very few people we would have asked and yet asking is interesting. How many of you might say, oh, if you’d have asked me, I’d have wanted to help. I’d have at least felt like somewhere no, seriously. How many of you had said yes? Come on, hands up. No, you don’t have to put your hands up.

I’m just joking with you. Everyone who asks receives the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks the door will be opened. Actually, there’s a basic principle that asking has power. How many of you have a dog of some kind in your life? A dog in your world, a family member that is also furry? How You know, if I know, if if you do that, that dogs have a power of asking, even at the most importune moments.

You’re relaxing, watching a sunset, a dog knows how to make an ask. I wanted to introduce you to the different faces of Holly, our golden retriever. She has different ways of asking. There’s just this, The straight in your face, I want something from you. I want that sandwich that you’re eating. There’s the kind of raised eyebrow look that gets a little bit more intense.

There’s the, I’m not going to look at you, but I’m still here look. There’s the, and then there’s finally the one like this the one that says I might die if you don’t feed me. I often actually internalize in my internal mind, Holly’s voice is somewhat like Gollum or Schmiegel in Lord of the Rings.

It’s Oh, cruel, it does not care if we be hungry. It does not care if we should die. It’s like this heartbreaking, heartbreaking emotion. Staring a golden retriever in the face while not giving it food is a challenge. Asking is real. and powerful. Dallas Willard says this, We should note that the ask, seek, not teaching first applies to our approach to others, not to prayer to God.

We respect and never forget that the latch of the heart is within. We are glad for that fact and would not override it. We can gently but persistently keep our hopeful expectation before them and at the same time before God. Asking is powerful. I occasionally have to people that will go online and they’ll find my email address, which is public domain.

And they’ll send that, they’ll use that email address to send some of you guys all sorts of emails saying, Alex is in a deep prayer session right now and cannot be disturbed. Could you please go and buy some gift cards and send them straight to him? And the beautiful thing is so many of you respond and say, what do you need?

Like I am here. For you whatever it is. I can make it happen. There’s a power to asking that is real and that’s good James in his letter and James is like a Commentary in some ways on the Sermon on the Mount this book James by one of Jesus brothers It is almost like runs parallel to the Sermon on the Mount and emphasizes some parts of it He says this supposing a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food If one of you says to them go in peace, but keep warm and well fed But does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. There is a reciprocal contract, especially between followers of Jesus, that says, I am here for you, and if you ask, there’s something stirred in me that says, I get to respond, and that is a privilege. At its first level, when Jesus says, ask, seek, and knock, it’s a human interaction.

But then, Jesus brilliantly moves the interaction, the equation, from human to human divine. He starts to bring in the parallel of a relationship with God. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish, will give him a fish? If you can remember back to the very start of the Sermon on the Mount, we looked briefly at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

In that moment, Jesus says man cannot live by bread alone, but we’re reminded here just how important bread actually is. It is a necessity and we’re told that when someone asks for bread, a good father will usually provide it. If he asks for a fish, who will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those you love?

Sometimes people struggle with Jesus use of the word evil here and Jesus is doing this brilliant thing where I often call it this, a how much more ism. He uses extreme language by calling us evil and by calling God good. He gets to demonstrate the difference between the two. Even you who are here, often broken at times, often messy.

If you often feel that pull, How much more? How much more will the God of heavens do this? We’re invited into pursuing relationships of asking, seeking, and knocking. But then especially, invited to do that in our relationship with God. I love how Jesus moves the dynamic of this relationship between God and humans during this passage.

Because in the origins of scripture, in the first parts, that relationship is simply the relationship of man with his creator. And when Jesus says this, he says, not just a creator, that’s not who you’re asking. Not just a covenant God. who is bound to a group of people, but a father who loves his children.

Now, depending on your upbringing, depending on your relationship with your own father, or perhaps a lack of relationship with your father, that word father can be troubling. But most of us somewhere have seen something that looks like a great father. And automatically, that’s where Jesus image is supposed to leave us.

When you see an earthly father operating at their best, when you see them loving a child well, when you see a father who knows what it is to give generously, but with limits, imagine that and ten exit, a hundred exit, beyond, take it beyond all of that. This is what this heavenly father is like. Again, we’ll flip back to James for just a second, and he gives us this good piece of commentary.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. That means if you’ve experienced something in this life that has given you those moments of joy, if you’ve looked into the face of a child of your own and experienced the joy that they give, that is a gift from your Father.

If you’ve sat and watched the sun rise or the sun set, that is a gift from above. If you’ve experienced the joy of a good meal, that too is a gift. Whatever has been good, Jesus says, and his brother James says, all of that comes from the Father. There is no other place to assign it. It is simply a gift of goodness.

This Father knows what it is to give. When we ask, seek and knock, he gives only. what is good, and that reveals some of the tension of the passage. Because it’s not just the Mercedes Benz idea, it’s actually a sense that we get to surrender all of the things we think we want and that we think we need to this father who only gives what is good.

The interesting thing about raising children is this, you know that when they ask for something, for the sake of the relationship in the moment, the easiest thing is to say yes to whatever they ask for. Just say yes, everybody for a moment is happy and then most of all there is peace. Maybe you get to sit down in a chair without being bothered for a few moments.

Maybe you get to go to the bathroom for a few moments without being bothered. There’s all sorts of things there and yet this father only gives good gifts. Doesn’t give what is harmful, doesn’t give what is hurtful. And then watch as Jesus brilliantly sandwiches this divine interaction with two human interactions.

Because we started human, divine, and now we move back in verse 12 to the same thing. So in everything. do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets. Jesus talks about human to human giving, asking, receiving. Then talks about how God works in the world with his children.

And then he goes back, brilliantly, to the idea of treat others how you would like to be treated too. This is this is one of those moments where Jesus speaks and it’s become ubiquitous. It’s all over the place. We see this everywhere. It’s not completely. Original to Jesus a generation before a writer called Hillel said that which is hateful to you Do not do to your fellow that is the whole Torah but Jesus takes this so much beyond and it’s spread it’s in every little thing in the world around us, Kentucky The state of Kentucky in their code to driving finished with this treat other drivers as you would want to be treated.

Potentially a dangerous thing. I quite like being overtaken at 110 miles an hour. Does that mean I get to do it to everybody else? I don’t know if that’s the point. But this idea has spread. In the midst of that, the core of this passage seems to be centered around this idea. We get to pursue relationships of asking, seeking, and knocking.

But especially with God, you have a father who loves you, you get to ask, to seek, to knock, to come to him over and over again with the same sense of need, the repetitive ask of a child to a father, the, can we have it now? Can we have it now? Can we have it now? And he gets to decide. whether it’s good. You don’t have to decide that.

He gets to decide whether it’s good and necessary. So here’s the question in the midst of that. Why do we not do this? Why is this for so many of us not a part of our lives? Why is it that some, so many Christians, a huge percentage would say, I feel like my prayer life is deeply dissatisfying. I don’t feel like I can go to my father.

I have uncertainty about that sense of relationship. What is the roadblock that in the midst of what Jesus has said holds us back from that? Because there is one, and there’s been one for 2, 000 years, even 2, 000 years ago, or nearly 2, 000 years ago, James, again, back to the commentary, said, You desire, but you do not have, so you kill.

You cover, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. And then watch this part. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives. That you may spend what you get on pleasures. I’m not saying that somewhere we get to revert back to the old idea that if we just ask rightly God will give us everything we could ever dream of getting.

That, that’s not how this kind of wisdom literature works. Jesus isn’t under any illusions that everyone who’s ever prayed for everything has got it, but he does reiterate over and over again That the best way to live is in a prayerful relationship with God, where we express that sense of deep need for something.

And yet, I meet people all the time that say, I stopped praying for that years ago. I gave up on that element of my life. Maybe it just didn’t work, maybe it didn’t happen. But why is it that we leave this behind? And there’s two things that I want you to catch, and bizarrely, and perhaps this is just the beautiful way of Jesus, they are diametrically, it would seem, opposed to each other.

And yet I would say a load of people in this room, including myself, might own to having both of these elements affect us regularly. The first word is this. It’s sufficiency. It’s the word that says I’ve got it. I’m good. I can make this work. I know the system. I can keep plugging away, I can keep paying my mortgage, if I need to borrow some money, the bank are always really helpful, I can find people, I can make friends.

I can find someone to love. I can do all of those things. I’ve got life pretty much figured. I can progress with my job. I can keep working. I can keep playing the system. I can move up the hierarchy. I’ve learned to parent, doing it pretty well. Maybe you’re now a grandparent. You feel like you’ve got that done.

It’s sufficiency that there’s all over life. That moment where we say we’re good at this now. I wanted to explain this by drawing you a graph. It’s brilliant. So you can take a picture of it here. On one hand, we’ve got prayer going upwards, and then this says skill. I drew you a graph. It’s awful. You can’t read it.

Okay. What do you want to hear? Here’s what I think happens though, during life, because we do get better at life and following Jesus will make you better at life as well. But I think this happens. As we grow in whatever we’re talking about, whatever area of life that might encompass the word skill, prayer descends that way.

We get so familiar with working the patterns. Why do you need to pray when you’ve got it all worked out? That can hit almost any area of life. I’ve been doing this part of my life for a long time, guys. I can, without praying about it, make up some words to say on a Sunday morning. It doesn’t work the same way as when I come to God and say, God, I desperately need you to speak to the people in our community.

But I can function there. You’ve got whole areas of your life that you can do pretty well. You don’t have to bring them for asking, seeking, knocking. You don’t have to ask what God would say in that situation. Sufficiency will kill prayer over and over again. Corrie Ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor, writer, speaker, asked this, Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?

She’s brilliant. That could just be the sermon. Is it the thing that drives your life, or is it just the thing that you like? you throw out in an emergency. It’s like a parachute that rescues you when you need to it. So that’s on one side, our sufficiency kills prayer. And then bizarrely and diametrically opposed to that, our insufficiency kills prayer.

The sufficiency element says, I’m good. I’ve got this. I can do life. The insufficiency part says I’m not good for multiple reasons that we’ll look to in a moment. Insufficiency says, I’m not good. This is a competency pyramid. If you’ve never come across one before, they are fascinating. They speak to almost every area of life that you may enter into and do for the first time.

You begin almost anything at the bottom level of this pyramid. It’s this moment of unconscious incompetence. I could phrase it like this. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s all brand new. I’m just clueless. I’m just trying to fit. I’m here to learn. Give me everything because I don’t know anything about anything.

This is where I was the first time I bought a house. This was there where I was the first time I raised a child. This is where I was the first time I wrote a sermon. Almost anything that I’ve done and passionate about, I was at some point at the bottom of this pyramid. And then there’s this moment where you dabble with it and you realize, wow, there’s a lot I don’t know about this.

It’s this moment where you move from, I don’t know what I don’t know, to I know. What I don’t know. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on here. It’s going to take me a long time to learn. Theoretically, if you keep working at this thing, could be golf, could be pickleball, could be anything, you keep working, you get to this moment of conscious competence.

You know what you know, but you like you got it. You got to think about it. You got to keep Processing he’s welcome to stay by the way. I just don’t want to say I like I’m gonna I’m gonna I don’t notice anymore Four kids will do that to you Conscious competence is the next stage and then finally there’s this brilliant one Where you get to when you’re really good at something I would suggest very few of us are really we ever get to this level and almost anything maybe speaking English You There’s unconscious competence, where you’re just like, I just do it, don’t even think about it now.

It’s just I don’t even know what I know anymore because there’s so much that I know. I’m just, it’s this big, like to me it’s just all easy. When it comes to prayer, I would suggest most of us find ourselves at level two. maybe sometimes level three. But there’s huge swathes of us following Jesus that would say, I’m in the bottom of this pyramid.

I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t even know how this thing works. I try to pray, it’s really hard. I do it for a season, then I give up for a while. And I all the time have this kind of thing in me that says, is God even listening to this? Is this ceiling glass? Because I’m not necessarily feeling it cracking or me getting through it.

We end up in those spaces, and that, too, kills any sense of prayer, any ability to ask, seek, and knock. Frederick Buechner says this, writer, philosopher brilliant, compelling writer, says this, What deadens us most of God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are constantly, continually engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of the human heart.

If you’ve ever struggled to pray because of the internal mechanism within you, take a picture of that and read it every single day. It will change your life. The internal mechanism is not the voice of God and it’s not prayer and yet it will kill prayer dead. It kills prayer dead because this is what it tells us.

It tells us that the number one reason God answers prayer. is our goodness. And the second one might be a faithfulness in prayer. And then finally, at the bottom, It’s God’s goodness that determines whether prayer is answered. And yet in this teaching, Jesus says that list is flipped entirely upside down.

When we read Matthew chapter 7, verse 7 through 11, the overriding reason that God responds to us asking, seeking, and knocking is what? It’s His goodness. Nothing to do with you. and your goodness. Second, and a long way second, it’s like one here, two all the way down here, is your faithfulness in prayer. And your goodness, your sense of deservingness, it isn’t even mentioned.

It doesn’t even come into the equation. And yet it dominates our experience of prayer. Am I good enough? Have I prayed enough? Have I kept things on the straight and narrow long enough? Will God listen to me speak? Am I doing this right? None of it mentioned ever in this text. Jonathan Pennington says this, the emphasis is not on the skill or even the persistence of the seeker in prayer, but on the character of kindness of the heavenly father.

We are told over and over again in life, especially as children, that this is true, that people in the end get what they deserve. Isn’t it the end of like basically every good movie? The hero gets what the hero deserves. It’s all good. And the bad guy gets what bad guys deserve. Whether it’s Hook getting swallowed by the crocodile, whether it’s like Scar getting thrown off the cliff, it all comes back.

Disney was on my mind clearly when I was thinking about this. It all comes back around and they get what they deserve. Prayer is centered around not getting what you deserve. What you deserve has nothing to do with it. It’s never even mentioned. Never even mentioned. God’s goodness not your goodness, a central when it comes to prayer.

Let’s take a moment. We’re going to pause and Aaron and the team are going to lead us in a final song. And I’d love you to take those two elements, sufficiency, insufficiency, which hampers your prayer life most, which stops you asking, seeking, knocking. Have you got to a point where you’re just like, I got this covered.

Yeah, there’s a spare tire in case of emergencies, but for the most part, I know where I’m going. I can work this. Do you even need to pray anymore? Or is it the other one, that lurking narrative within you that says, man, I don’t deserve this God. You don’t, you shouldn’t have to come through for me. I should have figured this out by now.

I made this mistake. I’m the one that’s going to pay for it. I can’t expect you to act. If you were going to help someone, it would be someone other than me. Which one is it? Maybe it’s both. I’m just going to invite you to hold on to them for a moment. Recognize how false that narrative is. Recognize, just remind yourself for a moment of Jesus teaching here.

Asks he can knock, because this father loves to give good gifts to his children. May not answer it how you want him to,

but it’ll answer it somehow. Mark chapter 5, we read this heartbreaking story of a man called Jairus, whose daughter dies. Jesus eventually turns up and raises her from the dead. Stops on the way to heal somebody else. Sometimes the child is risen. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the house is exactly what you want it to be.

Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there’s healing from sickness. Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes there’s a new job. Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes the relationship’s healed, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the marriage feels like it’s restored, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes God answers it exactly how you would have designed it, and you feel like you’re living in a Janis Joplin song.

Sometimes it’s not. But the compelling part of what Jesus tells us is this, that this Father, this good Father, even when he doesn’t give you what you ask for, will always give you himself. And perhaps somewhere deep down, that’s the thing you actually need most of all. So for a moment, father, we hold our needs in front of you.

And I’d invite you just to hold out your hands. Whatever that thing that you’re praying for is, just hold it. Surrender it to your good father who loves you. When you get up, you’ll continue to ask, to seek, and to knock. But right now, you surrender it and say, God, not your will, not my will, but yours be done.

But most of all, I long not for your power, but for your presence.

As Aaron and the team lead us, I’m going to ask you to stand. Just continue to Contemplate continue to have a conversation with God if you’ve stopped praying if you feel oh my goodness It’s this big thing that I’ve just stopped asking for when you’d like someone to pray with you Some of our prayer team will be scattered around at the front They love to pray with people over this and we ask them to do this because it’s a passion for them too So I don’t feel any embarrassment.

Don’t feel any guilt. Don’t feel any Compulsion, but if you’d like someone to pray with you, i’ll be here. They’ll be there Let’s sing