The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

24 – Our Benevolent God

Matthew 7:7-11:

“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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, 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 who ask him!”

Today we will turn to Matthew 7:7-11, and here Christ turns to our relationship with the Father in heaven.  I find these verses very comforting because, as I read them, I discover that Christ presents God as a benevolent Father.  The God we worship is the God Who cares about us.  I want to give you a couple of statements regarding this.  One is an example, the other is a Biblical statement.  Turn to 1 Peter 5:6-7.  Most of the New Testament writers give you counsel on Christian living at the end of their epistle.  First they give you the gospel — they explain the truth.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

The other example is concerning Christ Himself.  Notice how Christ related to His Father when He was living on this earth as a man.  In John 16:32, Jesus is making this statement to His disciples.  He knows what is ahead of Him but He makes this statement:

“But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home [all of you will run away to preserve his own life].  You will leave me all alone.  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”

It was this knowledge (that the Father was with Him) that made it possible for Christ to endure the cross.  Even though He felt forsaken on the cross, by faith He knew that God had not forsaken Him, that God would keep His promise.  And in verse 33 He says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

With this in mind, let’s turn to Matthew 7:7-11 and read the passage first and then we will look at it in more detail:

“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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, 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 who ask him!”

What is Christ saying here?  Look at verse 7 and you will see three verbs there:  ask, seek, and knock.  All of these three verbs are in what we call the “present imperative.”  It is almost like a command.  In verse 7, Christ is taking examples from the Jewish culture and He is using these three imperatives, which were normal between a child and his father, and He is applying them to our relationship to God.

What Christ is saying is that, if you ask God, if you seek Him, if you knock at His door, He will not ignore you, He will respond.  Verse 8 brings out that He will respond:  “For everyone who asks receives,” etc.  Remember that Christ had already spoken two times about praying in the Sermon on the Mount.  Once when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer, but here He presents a God who is caring.

You must keep in mind that the Jews had a very different concept of God.  They looked upon God as a severe, stern Judge who would punish them for every mistake.  One of the reasons that Christ came to this world was to reveal to us what kind of God we are worshiping.  In His prayer in John 17 He said, “Father, I have glorified You — I have revealed to the world what you are like — a God of love.”  John 17:4,6a,26:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.  ...I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.  …I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

But now I would like to look at verse 7 again because something more needs to be said about it.  We must not take those three imperatives — “ask, seek, and knock” — we must not take them out of context.  There are Christians who have asked God for something and when He has not responded, they say, “Look, God has not kept His word.”  It is important that we take these three imperatives in context.

Christ is not saying here that everything we ask will be given irrespective of whether it is good or bad for us.  What He is saying is that He will give us (verse 11) only that which is good for us.  He will not refuse that which is for our benefit.  Remember what He said previously.  In Matthew 6:33, He told His disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

He is talking now in Chapter 7 to disciples whom He hopes have put this into practice — the seeking first of the kingdom of God.  Then “all these things will be given.”

Christ has already talked about praying to the Father.  He has touched on “give us this day our daily bread,” etc.  Matthew 6:11:

Give us today our daily bread.

His concern here is that, when we pray to our Father, there are three things that we must keep in mind, three presuppositions in order for us to understand verse 7.  What are they?

First of all, when you pray a prayer of request, that presupposes that we have knowledge of God’s will for us.  I want to give you some examples of that knowledge that we should have.  God will not give us anything which He knows will lead us the wrong way.  There are times that I have asked God for certain things that I thought I needed.  But now, as I look back, I am glad that He did not give it to me.  I will give you an example.

When we were at Andrews University, most students who are at the seminary are sponsored, but those who come from overseas don’t have that privilege.  There were three of us who were not sponsored.  So my poor wife worked 55 hours a week and I worked 20 hours a week besides carrying a full load in my Master’s program.  There used to be a service station at Andrews and, since I know about cars, I worked there in the afternoon and at night I cleaned the toilets, which is a very difficult thing for my culture.  That is reserved for a certain caste and I belonged to the very high class in the Indian culture and if my father ever knew that I cleaned toilets, he would be horrified.  I never told him.  The Brahman caste never, ever touches toilets.  Of course, toilets in America are clean compared to the third world, so it wasn’t too bad.

But just as I was taking my final exams I got two calls.  One was to go as a missionary to Uganda without allowance — as a national returning.  Which means no privileges except that they would pay my fare there.  The other one was from the Pennsylvania Conference and it was a very tempting thing.  They said they would pay all that I spent for my Master’s program, all I would have to do is to work two years for them.  That was a temptation and I went to the Lord to ask that I could take the Pennsylvania Conference.  But He didn’t answer that way.  He made it clear to both my wife and to me:  “You go to Uganda.”

When we went, we never dreamed we would see the United States again.  We were going there permanently.  But God works in mysterious ways and here I am, enjoying the luxuries of the United States.  But I am glad that I went because Africa opened my eyes to the gospel.  You may call it the Dark Continent, but that is where my eyes were opened.

Turn to James 4:3.  When we pray, we must have the knowledge that God knows what is best for us.  He can see the beginning from the end.  We may think that something is good for us, but we must put that in God’s hands.

When you ask, you do not receive [Is James contradicting Jesus? No, and see why:], because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

So if you ask, “Please, God, I am poor and I want to be rich,” and He knows that wealth will lead you away from Him and eternal salvation, He won’t give it to you.  He says, “Yes, I will give you wealth if you will wait until you get to heaven where you are safe.”  Remember that, when we ask God, we must ask knowing that He will give us our request only if it is for our good.  I will give you an example in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.  This request was good, it was genuine, it was asked in sincerity and for the glory of God.  Paul tells us that:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Paul thought that this was a hindrance to his work so what did he do?  Verse 8:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

Did God answer Paul’s prayer?  Yes.  But the answer was “No.” Verse 9:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

“Don’t depend on your ability or your resources.  The weaker you are, Paul, the more My strength will be revealed.”  Paul’s response revealed that He knew God.

So, number one, when you ask, please ask knowing that God will say “yes” only if it is good for you.  Number two, prayer presupposes faith.  It is one thing to know God’s will, it is another thing to believe it.  In Mark 9:17-28, you have this father who comes and asks Christ for a favor.  Notice how Jesus responded in verse 23 (you can read the whole story for yourself) and the man’s response in verse 24:

      “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus.  “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
      Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

So when we come to God, we must come with faith knowing that He will answer.  The answer may be “no,” but He will answer our prayers.  In this context, I want to give you one more verse, Hebrews 11:6.  Please notice how Jesus, through the writer of Hebrews, puts this across.  Hebrews 11 is a chapter on faith and faith is a very important ingredient in the Christian life.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

You must believe in God and you must believe that He will not ignore you.  Seek and you will find, but God may answer your prayer in a way that is surprising.

Now, number three:  Prayer also presupposes a desire.  When I say “desire,” I don’t mean a desire for the things of this world, but I mean a desire for the things of God.  We should, in our hearts, once we have understood the gospel, have a desire:  “What is it, God, that You want me to do?  I want to do Your will.”  That should be our uppermost desire.  Do you remember how Paul put it?  “For me to live is Christ.”  That was his desire.  I want to remind you of the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:6:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Remember, there has to be this hunger and this thirst.

Now I want to show you that verses 9-11 in Matthew 7 confirms these three prerequisites that I have just given you.  Look now at the very short parable in verses 9-11:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

In the Middle East they had lots of pebbles and big boulders that looked like typical middle-eastern bread.  Would a father give his hungry son a piece of stone?  The answer is “no.”  Please remember that Christ was talking by the Sea of Galilee where the staple diet was fish and bread.  Verse 10:

“Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

The word “serpent” [in some translations] means a poisonous snake, a snake that will do you harm.  Both the snake and the stone will do you harm.  (The stone will break your tooth).  Notice now verse 11:

“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!”

What did he mean that “we are evil”?  He is telling us that we not only have a bent toward evil, but we poor, sinful human beings are evil, unable to do something good.  Paul also uses the words “much more” to show a contrast with our Father, Who is good.

In other words, Why are you doubting your heavenly Father?  Doesn’t it make sense to you that if sinful human beings know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our Father which is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.

I made a statement earlier that we must not take verse 7 out of context.  The same passage is repeated in Luke, except Luke uses another word where Matthew uses “good things” or “good gifts” in verse 11.  Go to Luke 11:9-13 and you tell me what words Luke used instead of “good gifts.”  You will notice that the passage is almost identical to that in Matthew:

“So I say to you:  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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

You see here that the “Holy Spirit” is the “good gift.”  Why?  Because the title that Christ gave to the Holy Spirit is paracletos, which is a very important word.  It means someone who is by your side to help you, to comfort you, to take you through trials, to be there for you.  Please remember that the Holy Spirit is a divine person.  He is the One Who gave Christ victory.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christ was able to conquer sin, the devil, and the world.  That same Spirit is by our side to help us, to strengthen us, to comfort us when we are discouraged.  That is why we now have to learn to depend on that Holy Spirit, the “good thing” that God gives us.

It is nice to be able to help each other, but there is coming a time when we will be scattered just like the disciples were.  Jesus in Gethsemane said to the three disciples, “Please wait and pray for me.  I need your comfort, I need your encouragement.”  Three times He came and what did He find them doing?  Sleeping.  And then, when He really needed them and He was taken captive, what did they do?  They fled.  But Jesus knew One Person Who would not forsake Him and that is God.  God has sent you His Holy Spirit — a Gift above all good gifts.  He is there by your side and you can talk to Him.  Unfortunately, you cannot see Him, because the Spirit is like the air; you can’t see the air, but you can feel it.  Do you believe that He is by your side?  He is there to comfort you, to strengthen you, to meet your needs.  When you tell God that you are discouraged, He will reply, “My Spirit is by your side.”

It is my prayer that we will learn in this time of ease to practice the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We human beings need to see something, especially in this television world.  We need to practice and to believe that He is there to help us through trials, to answer our needs.  That is the kind of God that we worship.  A God Who loves us, cares for us, and will never forsake us.  Jesus doesn’t want us to think of our heavenly Father as a stern judge.

I want to conclude by giving you an example from the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus has given us.  He said, “When you pray, how do you address God?”  “Abba, Father.”  “Abba” was the common term which the Jews used when they were addressing their earthly father.  Just like in Europe fathers are called “papa’ and here we say “daddy.”  Abba was the common term for the earthly father, but no Jew would dare address God “Abba.”  When Jesus told the disciples to call their Father in heaven “Abba,” that was radical.  I can imagine some saying, “This is blasphemy,” because, when the scribes wrote the name of God, they would use a special pen, they would never use the common pen which they used to write the scripture.  They were so scared to use the name of God that they even lost the word that was originally used.  They were scared of God.

Florence Litthauer is a famous speaker who has spoken to many Adventist audiences around the United States.  She gave a series to a women’s group in South Carolina.  This is the statement that I want to give you.  One of our ladies asked her to describe her impressions of Seventh-day Adventists after speaking to many similar Adventist gatherings.  It is good to hear from outsiders as to what they think of us.  Here is her impression:

“Adventists seem to be very aware of their distinctive doctrines but appear to have a low level of confidence in their relationship to God.  Adventists spend time in Bible Study each day, at least some of them, but very few spend a significant amount of time talking to God in prayer.  Adventists mistakenly attempt to substitute an intellectual grasp of their distinctive truths for the assurance of salvation which every believer can enjoy in Christ.  This substitution naturally results in spiritual insecurity and the dominance of guilt.”

What a correct observation!  I hope that we will eradicate from our own people this insecurity.  We need to have the assurance that, “I can come to my Father, not because I am good but because He has redeemed me in His Son and He has adopted me while I was still a sinner.”  When the time of crisis comes (and you will all face it — maybe personal crisis — but ultimately we will all face crisis) I want you to know that God will never forsake you.  Your church might forsake you, your pastor might forsake you.  When I took the Week of Prayer at the Middle East College in 1981, they had only one Lebanese pastor left in the whole of Lebanon.  The rest came to this country.  That one could not come because he could not speak English.  You had to speak English to get a Visa.  And many of the flocks were left without a shepherd and we had to import shepherds from Egypt and from Jordan and from Syria.  Your pastors may forsake you, or your members may forsake you, or your conference may forsake you, but I tell you that our Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father, and His Holy Spirit will never forsake you; they are here by your side.

This is why we need to understand what Christ is saying in terms of our relationship with the Father.  It must be the relationship of a child to a benevolent father.  He has only one concern and that is for your good.  He will never refuse you anything that is for your good.

That is our study this time.  Next study, I am going to take only one verse from Matthew 7 because it is a verse that has been greatly misunderstood and that is the Golden Rule — verse 12.  What did Jesus mean?

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