Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:7-12

7 Ask, and it will given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds, and it will be opened for the one who knocks. 9 What person among you, when his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake? 11 If therefore you,—who 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? 12 So, whatever you want people to do for you, do it for them. For this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:7-12

For many years, I have had a persistent spiritual struggle. It is hard to put into words. The best that I can do is to say that I just felt like I was always on the losing end of life. When I prayed for things that I really needed, I did not receive the things I asked for. Instead, I got a never-ending list of things I had to give up and ways that I was wrong. At least this is how I perceived my experiences in prayer and in life.

Sometimes, I would get frustrated with God. I would cry with pent-up rage and unresolved pain, “You don’t care about me. All you care about is Your agenda! “ It really felt as though God would throw me to the wolves if it would bring about whatever it was that God was trying to accomplish.

Perhaps you have felt this way before. Perhaps you feel this way now. It is not hard for us to feel the crushing weight of expectations when we read Jesus’ teachings and try to put them into practice in our lives. Throw in a good measure of pain and more than a dash of unanswered prayers, and you have a recipe for spiritual disenfranchisement.

God Is Good and Wants Good

I think Jesus knew that we would have this kind of trouble. I think that is why he said what he did in Matthew 7:7-12. He wanted to reassure us that we are on the right track when we follow him—even though, as we will discuss next week, it will be a long and winding road. Jesus’ implicit exhortation is based upon and expressed through three claims.

First, he (implicitly) reminds us of who God is and (explicitly) of what God wants. Everyone in his audience knew that God is good. They were familiar with Exodus 33-34, where Moses asks God to reveal His “glory” but instead receives a revelation of God’s “goodness.” So Jesus didn’t have to remind people that God is good. He could simply contrast evil people with God, and his hearers would get the point.

But after everything that he had said up to this point, Jesus probably did need to remind his hearers that God wants good things for them. Yes, Jesus did tell his audience to seek God’s Kingdom first (6:33). Reading that paragraph of the sermon, it can feel a bit like Jesus is giving the back of his hand to our genuine concerns for how we will survive. But he also told them that God would provide for them. Many of the other commands (perhaps even the command to forgive) can feel the same way. Jesus’ point is that God does not intend to harm us by the work that He does in our lives. Quite to the contrary, God is at work providing good things for those who take Jesus’ message seriously.

God Calls People to Join Him in His Pursuit of What Is Good

Second, Jesus (and, by implication God) calls us to join with God in this good-oriented agenda. God wants us to be part of the process of bringing good to the world. How do we do this? We do it by asking, seeking, and knocking.

Through Christ’s preaching, God invites Christ’s disciples to make their requests known to Him. It is likely that these requests are to be focused on the Kingdom itself. This is true not only because we have already been commanded to “seek” (same word and form as is found in 7:7) the Kingdom but also because the very logic of Jesus’ argument presumes that the Kingdom will bring good for all who participate in it (cf., for example, 6:9-13).

Nevertheless, the fact that the imperatives in v. 7 , like the imperative of v. 1, do not have objects suggests that Jesus may have something broader in mind. So does the very down-to-earth examples that Jesus uses in vv. 9-11.

What does all of this mean? It means that Jesus wants us to focus our life of prayer and inquiry on the Kingdom of God because (among other things) the Kingdom is the expression of God’s good work in the world. But Jesus also wants us to bring our more earthly needs to God. because God really does care about us. Jesus is not promising in v. 8 that all of our prayers will be answered. Rather, he is promising that, as we bring our requests to God, we will see God at work bringing about good in our lives. We may not receive what we asked for, but we will receive. We may not find what we were looking for, but we will find. We may not receive access to those things that we thought were important, but we will receive access to what really matters.

God Calls Us to Live in Accordance with the Good Dictates of the Kingdom

Third, God calls us to live according to the new reality that was launched in Jesus. This may not seem very reassuring. “Just what I need,” you might be thinking. “Another mandate that I neither have the inclination nor the ability to implement.”

It is somewhat odd how v. 12 is tied to vv. 7-11. It can make v. 12 seem a bit out of place. But, as Craig Keener notes, Matthew has intentionally structured 7:1-12 around the programmatic statements in the first and last verse. Moreover, I am convinced that he wants us to read v. 12 in light of vv. 7-11. We can do all that God, through Christ, has called us to do precisely because it is part of our life in the Kingdom and because that Kingdom is ruled by a good and wise King.

More Than Words

No matter how carefully they were arranged or how thoughtfully they are explained, Jesus’ words are just that—words. It is only when we put faith with those words that we find a new way to live, a new way to interpret our experience and to order our steps. But when we take that step of faith, when we begin to seek God and to ask not only for His help but also for His provision and His enlightenment, we embark on a revolutionary process. It takes time, and it involves pain. But the further that we move along in the process, the more that we find ourselves grateful for God’s relentless devotion to His will.

I still struggle sometimes. Perhaps I always will. But my struggles are less now than they used to be. I am able to come to the Father with more faith than I used to. I am more often able to pray “not my will but Yours be done” and really mean it. And now, as I reflect on Matthew 7:7-12, I better understand why that is the case. The journey must go on, and I must continue to “ask,” to “seek,” and to “knock”—both for the good of the Kingdom and for my own good.

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