Sabastian Maniscalco is a comic who likes to poke fun at everyday life. One of Sabastian’s comedy sketches describes the difference between the way we respond to an unexpected knock on the door to their home today versus 30 years ago. Sabastian observed that 30 years ago, a knock-on door was a cause for excitement and happiness within the home. Everyone in the family went to the door to see who had come for a visit. Folks opened the door and hoped that it was company that they would like to welcome into our home. There was a desire to share hospitality with the unplanned arrivals.
Now when our doorbell rings or there is a knock on the door, everyone goes quiet in the house. Who could that be at the door? Folks spend effort now to see who has arrived. A check is done on our phones and see if the doorbell captured on video who is standing on the stoop. Folks peek out the side window to see if the person is familiar to us or if they are someone we want to receive. This is, of course, if the house is not in a gated community or in a building that has security before anyone can reach our door.
I make mention of this distinction because the words from Jesus we read earlier today, “7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), are immediately at odds with much of our contemporary culture. In culture of Jesus’ day, families, villages, and tribes of people needed to work together to ensure their mutual survival. We spoke last week about being thankful for the provision of the daily bread. Food, gathering enough to eat, was the central task for each and every day. Hospitality and sharing with others of your immediate family, extended family, village, tribe, and even traveler passing by was expected. However, in our culture, virtual every household has food in a refrigerator and pantry and as many as 40% of American households have two or more refrigerators or freezers. We live with a great deal of self-sufficiency and independence. As a culture, we don’t expect anyone to knock on our door to asking or seeking much of anything.
In the Gospel of Luke, we would gather some insight into the idea of dealing with the unexpected knock on the door. Jesus told this parable, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:5-8). A friend traveling through knocks on a neighbor’s door seeking shelter and something to eat. The person receiving that friend had no food to offer but would not stop until he found a friend who had some to share. In Jesus’ day, people asked, sought, and knocked to fulfill their needs. So, Jesus words to his audience had immediate meaning. We tend not to ask, seek, and knock these days. We tend to point and click. We let Amazon, Grubhub, Doordash, UPS, and FedEx fulfill our needs. Independence in life feels very empowering and is very much the hallmark of success in our culture. But there is a downside to an independent lifestyle. In our independence in living, we can develop a lack of reliance on God for anything.
So, we need to step out of our culture to think through what Jesus was saying to his audience when he said, “7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Jesus was, of course, talking to his audience about adapting their habits of survival of the body and follow the same approach for their spiritual life by placing reliance on God to meet their spiritual needs. Jesus was saying, “Take the mindset that you have in which you ask, seek, and knock as part of your everyday habits with each other to sustain life, and apply that mindset toward your relationship with God as you pursue righteousness from God.” 7 “Ask and keep on asking and it [God’s righteousness] will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 AMP). Jesus wanted his audience to see that seeking God’s righteousness was even more important to their lives than asking or seeking the next morsel of bread and that God alone was the source of that provision. No matter how “good” our family is or how nice our neighbors appear to be, we cannot receive the righteousness of God from another other than God. “6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Jesus’ words are strange to our culture today as we discussed because of our independence and Jesus’ words are strange because many believe they are a “Good Person,” and do not need God. If you don’t believe that someone is a “good person,” just ask them. They will tell you. In the Gospel of Luke, we would read Jesus’ response to the “Good Person” argument. “18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, ‘Good Teacher [You who are essentially and morally good], what shall I do to inherit eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]?’ 19 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is [essentially and morally] good except God alone’” (Luke 18:18-19). Since God alone is good, then for us to be good in any sense, we must ask, seek, and knock for that goodness from God alone.
This is why Jesus told his audience on the hillside, 7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Jesus was not talking here about getting anything or everything from God. Jesus was talking about being filled with the righteousness from the kingdom of God.
To illustrate to his audience the wisdom and generosity of God, Jesus offered this illustration. “9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil [sinful by nature], 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!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
Jesus was saying to his listeners, “You are sinful by nature but not so sinful that when your children are hungry and ask for food you will give them stones to eat. You know enough to give your children bread or fish to satisfy their hunger. If sinful people know that, how much more will God, who alone is good, give good gifts to those who seek him?” Jesus had promised earlier in the sermon, “6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
God is prepared to give good gifts to those who seek his righteousness and his kingdom in the now. What might those gifts include?
God gives salvation, the forgiveness of sin, and the promise of eternal life. Moreover, we learn in the book of James that, “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6). So, God is prepared to give us pure wisdom. God gives us “the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a). These are just some of the good gifts that are available to us from God, but we must ask, seek, and knock.
Asking for, seeking out, and knocking to access the good gifts of God makes us more like Christ. Having the grace and wisdom of Christ, we are then able and qualified to share the good news of what we have received, how we received it, and from whom we received it. This is what Jesus was emphasizing to his audience.
Jesus then concluded this part of his sermon with these words, “12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). As children we were taught to refer to Jesus words here as the Golden Rule, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”
The Golden Rule has existed in many different expressions throughout history. In ancient Egypt, the rule was, “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another." In India, the rule was, “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.” In ancient Greece, the rule went like this, “"What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either.” In ancient Rome, the rule was, “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you."
But there is a problem with the Golden Rule as we were taught it as a child or as developed in other cultures, ancient and modern. The abbreviated version of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount we were taught, “Do onto others as you would have them do to you,” and the other versions all make the individual taking the action the sole determiner of what is good or not hurtful. Nowhere is God found in the Golden Rule regardless of its form or origin. Jesus never said we should determine what should be done. Jesus never said anything like that, in fact, Jesus said the opposite.
Jesus made his statement after encouraging and commanding his disciples to seek an understanding of goodness and righteousness from God alone. With the wisdom and righteousness of God, Jesus followers could then know the perfect will of God. Knowing then the perfect will of God, Jesus’ disciples were equipped to do onto others as you would have them do to you [as though they also knew the perfect will of God.] In this form of the Golden Rule, the actor is not the determiner of what should be done. Instead, God determines what is good.
To emphasize the point that God determines what is right and good, Jesus said in full, “12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” To do what God desires means that the actor has fulfilled the entirety of the ethical behaviors of the Old Testament. Jesus had said a bit earlier in this sermon, 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came to fulfill the promises of God’s Messiah and to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in their ethical treatment of others. Jesus, God in the flesh, was the actor in treating others in the true righteousness of God. Jesus is rich in the wisdom and grace of God and thoroughly able to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22) was showing and treating people with the grace of God.
The Golden Rule as it is taught to children and sold on various forms of merchandise is nice but it is incomplete because as presented it eliminates God from the equation. That was never Jesus’ intent nor is it a viable way for the followers of Jesus to live.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would teach his disciples and us something about the righteousness of God that would go far beyond what any follower could ever do. Then, one evening, years later, Jesus showed what God’s righteousness looked like in full bloom. Just before Jesus was arrested, Jesus took bread, and he blessed the bread. Jesus gave that bread to his friends and said, “I want you to take this bread and eat it because the bread is my body.” The disciples were hungry for righteousness and Jesus wanted to fill them as had been promised. So, Jesus gave them the bread as a reminder that their desire for righteousness, their hunger, could be satisfied by taking in all Jesus ever said and did. Jesus was fulfilling the sum of the Law and the Prophets by blessing those who hungered for righteousness. In a similar manner, Jesus took the cup of wine and blessed it. He gave the cup to his disciples who were thirsty for righteousness. Jesus quenched their thirst with his own life-giving blood. Jesus did things for his disciples that we would never do for others. Jesus did these things as a way of expressing the depth, breadth, width, and height of God’s love.
In a moment, we can participate in Jesus’ gift of the bread and the cup. But to participate, we must be humble of enough to ask, to seek, and knock upon the door to Christ. If we do, we will receive good gifts from the good God through our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Do not feel like a stranger to God. He is home and will be excited to hear you knock on His door. Let us pray.