Sermon preached on Matthew 7:7-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/5/2014 in Novato, CA
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Give Good Things”
Jesus has already taught on prayer in this Sermon on the Mount, and again he revisits the subject. Prayer can sometimes seem a bit mysterious to us, in the sense of how our prayers can effectively petition a sovereign God who has already foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. And yet what clearly stands out in this passage is that Jesus encourages us to pray. To ask and seek and knock in prayer. And not only that, but the Christ assures us that God will not only answer our prayers, but that in responding to our prayers, he will give us good things. And so what an encouraging passage this is for our prayer life. Here we see why Christians have described prayer as a means of grace. We are given this means to petition the Almighty God, maker and sustainer of the heavens and the earth, for those good things that we need.
In our first point then today, I’d like us to see how we are called to bring our requests to God. Look at verses 7 and 8. Jesus calls us to bring our prayer requests with three different verbs: ask, seek, and knock. These are colorful words that Jesus chose, and so let’s think about each briefly. The first one is to ask. That’s the most simplest of course. But it helps us to realize that Jesus is talking about making requests. And to put it in terms of asking, means that we are making this request to someone. We are asking someone for something. Of course, that someone is God. We are asking God as our heavenly father for something we need. And so though God has sovereignly foreordained all things, we are encouraged to ask. Ask God. And cross reference this with James 4:2, where James, in speaking on prayer, says that we do not have because we do not ask! That’s part of this mystery. Though God has his plan all worked out, there will be good things we could miss out on, if we simply do not ask for them in our prayers. This means, of course, that thus must also be part of God’s good plan. But, of course, in such circumstances it means he is surely teaching us how we miss out by not asking. So the point becomes the same. He is encouraging us to ask of him. Ask him for your needs and desires.
Next lets think about the seeking. We are to seek; we are to seek that we might find. What does it mean to seek? Well, this is the imagery of looking for something. You are looking with energy and zeal. You don’t give up until you find what you are looking for. There’s the idea of persistence. Remember that parable of Jesus of the persistent widow who kept going over and over to the judge looking for justice until he finally gave her justice. We too are to have this kind of persistence and zeal in our prayer requests. Keep zealously seeking out your request to God. And then of course, the flip side of such zealous seeking, is that you then zealously act after you prayer. So, for example, if you pray that God would grow you in the knowledge of the Bible, then after you say amen, apply that seeking to go and zealously read and study your Bible!
Let’s think of the last verb now, the knocking. We are to knock that the door would be opened. There’s obviously figurative language in these, especially here. It’s not a literal knocking on some door that we have to find. But think of a door. Think of when you want the person inside to open the door and attend to your request. And so you knock. And you knock. It makes a sound. The person inside can’t miss your knock. And you keep knocking and knocking until they come over and open the door and see what you need from them. This reminds us of Jesus’ parable in Luke 11:5-8 which is often called the parable of the Importunate Neighbor. That’s the parable that describes a friend that comes over to your someone’s house at midnight looking to borrow three loaves of bread for an unexpected out of town guest that has arrived. In the parable, the person at first tries to turn this friend away. He says, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.” And yet Jesus says in the parable, that though the person would not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistent requests he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Well, after Jesus tells that parable in Luke, Jesus actually then in Luke’s gospel, issues the same call as he gives us here in verse 7, to ask, seek, and knock. So, it certainly helps us to understand this knocking language. So again, apply this to your prayer life. If at first you don’t find the prayer to be answered, keep on knocking! Keep on praying. Keep on bringing your matter to God in prayer.
Now as we think about asking, seeking, and knocking, in our prayer life, let me say that this isn’t inviting you to pray to God for just anything. In other words, it’s not saying that any and every prayer request is equally valid. 1 John 5:14 says that we are to ask for things in prayer according to God’s will. James 4:3 says that sometimes our prayer requests aren’t fulfilled because we ask wrongly, that we are asking for something to satisfy our sinful cravings. You see, the assumption here in context is that you are to ask for good things; that’s the point of verses 9-12, that we’re talking about the good things a father would give his child based on the child’s good request. Along those lines, remember what we read about in last chapter. What should we be seeking? What should we fix our heart upon and thus what we would expect to see come out in our prayer requests? Well, Jesus said last chapter to set our hearts on heavenly treasure. To look to seek after God and the blessings that come from his kingdom and his righteousness. These are the kinds of things that should fill our prayer life. Just look at the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer for further examples. Yes, there is a prayer request in there for our daily bread. We can and should pray for our daily physical and material needs. Of course! But there is an ever greater amount of time devoted in that prayer to praying for God’s glory and for our spiritual needs and our growth in righteousness and the work of Christ’s kingdom on this earth. When we bring our requests to God, let us reflect on what are the kinds of things that are particularly fitting for us to ask of God. Our requests should reflect one who is a child of God and part of his heavenly kingdom, though someone who is still living on this earth.
So then, in summary of our first point, we are heartily encouraged by Jesus to bring our requests to God in prayer. We are to bring them in zeal and with persistence. Let’s turn now to our second point for today and consider how Jesus also encourages us that we have a God who will wonderfully answer our prayers. In other words, Jesus doesn’t just encourage us to ask, but he also encourages us that there will be an answer. Our prayers won’t fall on deaf ears. Let’s walk through the passage and observe how Jesus encourages us along these lines. Start in verse 7. We noticed the three verbs Jesus used there to call us to bring our requests to God: ask, seek, and knock. But notice that he also adds for each that there will be the corresponding response. If you ask, you’ll receive. If you seek, you will find. If you knock, the door will be opened. Then look at the next verse. Verse 8 basically repeats this again, but this time really focusing on the certainty of the response. Verse 7 focused on the call to bring our requests, but verse 8 focuses especially on assuring us on the answer. Verse 8 really is unnecessary in terms of just transferring information; it doesn’t tell us anything new. And yet it is an amazing emphasis by Jesus that he chose to repeat himself in this way. Verse 8 is really a sort of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” sort of verse! It is amazing!
And he goes on. Look at verses 9-10. Jesus gives an analogy. We are the analogy! He says that human parents know how to give their children good gifts. If they ask for bread or fish, we wouldn’t give them a rock or a serpent. Of course not. Jesus’ point works here because it something so taken for granted. No good parent would ever be so cruel as to withhold the good things their kids need, let alone give them bad things. And so then verse 11 makes the switch from us to God. He applies this idea to God. It’s one of those “how much more” type of arguments. Verse 11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Wow. If we would say that no good parent would give their kids bad things when they are asking for good things, Jesus actually would say that you aren’t even truly a good parent! “Ouch,” but true, from God’s eyes. But God is not like a human parent. He’s infinitely better than any human parent. If human parents, which are by definition sinners, normally give their kids good gifts, and not bad ones, then we can have certainty that our heavenly Father will do even far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.
So we are being encouraged here by Jesus. God will answer our prayers. And he’ll answer them in a great way. A way that is for our good. He’s our heavenly father. He loves us. He cares for us. Jesus encourages us on the certainty of his good answer. So, then, the question that surely comes into our mind as we think about this: What about when we don’t see an answer? Well, let me respond to that question in three ways.
One, we are told here to be persistent and zealous in our prayer life. If we haven’t seen an answer quite yet, it may be that God in his wisdom wants us to keep seeking and knocking. God is God. There is wisdom and a good plan in why God sometimes doesn’t immediately grant our request in our own desired timeframe.
Two, God assures us here of giving us good gifts. He doesn’t promise to give us bad ones. Or more accurately, he won’t give us bad things. That’s his point right in this analogy of humans parents and their gifts to their children. He’s not going to give us bad things. Sometimes he answers right away with the simple answer of “no.” In a similar way, sometimes how God answers our prayer is by not giving us the good thing we asked for, but instead giving us something even better!
God is God and so we must trust his wisdom and good plan for our life.
Third, and in general, God is the Father, and we are the child. If God had to answer any request we make in the exact way we ask it, then he is not the God and the Father. Furthermore, since we are evil as Jesus says we are here, do we really think it would be good for any of us to be God and Father? Don’t we want to be able to ask God for things, but trust that he’ll step in and amend and change our request based on what’s best for us? I mean, he’s the one who is God, not us. That’s what we should want God to do for us. Again, God is God. We are not. That is okay. That is great, actually!
So, those three reasons are all fairly similar. The point is that, yes, Jesus encourages us that God will answer our prayers. But at the same time, we realize that this is not to be understood in some simplistic way. There is a complexity and a mystery to how it all works out. But that stems largely from the fact that we are sinful, finite, creatures, with a limited knowledge and wisdom, asking for help from the holy and righteous God of the heavens and the earth who knows all things and sustains all things. Let us be encouraged then that this God answers the prayers of us who have become his children. That’s the point of Jesus here! Be encouraged in our prayer life!
Well, so far, Jesus has encouraged us to make requests of God in prayer. He’s encouraged us that God will hear and answer our prayer requests in good ways. In our last point now I want us to consider how in the midst of encouraging us, he also casually mentions that we are evil. This is verse 11. Jesus is amazing. What an interesting way to state such a truth. Notice he didn’t include himself there. He didn’t say, “We, being evil.” No, he said, “You, being evil.” Now, I could see how some people today could take offense at Jesus there. I could see how people back then probably took offense as well. The Bible teaches that every man, except Jesus of course, is a sinner. We are all basically evil, except Jesus. True, some are more evil than others. But apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, every human is in a state of what theologians call total depravity. We are all dead in our sin and unable to come to Christ for salvation. And this is why people often take offense to that. They don’t want to think of the human condition like this. In their spiritual blindness, they have convinced themselves that mankind is basically good. And if not all mankind, then at least themselves! But that is not the biblical teaching on man’s nature. After the fall, we are all totally depraved until the Spirit of God makes someone born again. Then they are enabled to be able to turn and believe in Jesus. Then, out of their renewed wills, they can seek Jesus and seek salvation.
That being said, notice that Jesus appears to be talking to largely born-again people here. He’s been talking to people whom he says have God as their heavenly father. He’s been contrasting them with the pagan Gentiles. He’s been distinguishing how they are to be different even from the Pharisees. And so he’s talking presumably to believers, and yet still acknowledges that they are evil. This is an important point then not to miss. When someone becomes born again by the Holy Spirit, a real change takes place. They are no longer in that state of total depravity. They are able to finally and truly come to Jesus. They can begin to do what in God’s eyes would be considered a truly righteous act. And yet, until they go to be with the Lord, even such born again believers are still sinners. Yes, in Christ, their legal standing before God is one of righteousness. But there is still some remaining corruption within them, so that Jesus could rightly still refer to us who are born again as evil. Yes, not a simple and straight evil. But sinners with natures still somewhat affected by sin. It will be a war inside us the rest of our lives between our old self and our new self. And yet, we can see the difference too. We who are born again, are not totally depraved any longer. Otherwise, this call to ask, and seek, and knock, would simply fall on deaf ears. In our total depravity, we’d ignore such a call. But having been awakened to our sin, to our evil, we gladly receive such a call to ask, and seek, and knock.
And we are overjoyed then as we think about the ramifications of all of this. It’s because we are evil, that we need what Jesus has done for us. That’s why we needed him to go to the cross. To atone for all our evils. That we could be in a father-child relationship with God. And that’s why Jesus can make this offer to us Christians today. That’s why, though we are evil, that he can tell us to ask, and seek, and knock. And it’s why, though we are evil, that he can encourage us that God will respond to such requests with good things. Because the gospel changes everything. Because in Christ we are now indeed God’s children. In Christ we are loved by God and cared for as his adopted children. God receives us who are evil and no longer counts our evil against us. Rather, he knows our struggle with that remaining evil within us. And since he cares for us, he calls us to come to him in prayer. Yes, we struggle with being evil in this life. God knows our struggle. And so he tells us through Christ, “Come.” “Come to me in prayer; ask, seek, knock.” Prayer is a gift to us who are battling with evil in our hearts. Prayer is one of those good gifts the Father has for his people. Prayer is what we need to combat the very reality of our ongoing struggle with evil. Remember that petition even in the Lord’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
And along these lines, I love how the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel finishes on this topic. It says, when talking about God giving us good gifts, that he will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” Luke 11:13. That’s how Jesus in Luke’s gospel especially defines one of the good things that God as our father will give us. He’ll give us freely of the Holy Spirit. So, I love how God confronts our evil. First he atones for it by Jesus at the cross. Then he sends his Spirit into our lives to sanctify us. Pray then especially for the good work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
So then, brothers and sisters, be encouraged today. That in our ongoing struggle of good versus evil in our hearts, God gives us prayer. We are encouraged to pray. We are encouraged at God’s good answer to our prayer. We are encouraged that this is even how God is addressing that remaining evil within us as born again Christians. We have a good God and Father. So then, bring your requests to God. Pray for help in your human relationships. We’ve seen that earlier in this chapter. We who are evil struggle in our relationships. We struggle to not be hypercritical and sinfully judgmental. We struggle to not be hypocritical in how we interact with others. And we can also struggle with not speaking up to someone when we should. Pray for grace from above to grow in righteousness in your earthly relationships.
And then may you also pray to grow in seeking God’s kingdom, each and every day of your life. Pray that each day you would have a renewed passion to grow in knowing God, following God, and serving him as king of your life. Pray that you will delight more and more in the things of God, and in how he defines righteousness. Pray that God would be growing you in all things to live unto the glory of God, and in so doing, enjoying him more and more.
And lastly we pray for endurance. We pray that God would keep us by his grace until that wonderful day when we see him face to face. Then he will finish the work of sanctification in us. Then the king will no longer have to refer to us as evil. No, on that great day, we will be finally, at last, conformed to the image of Christ. Then, on that great day, there will be no remaining evil within us. Look forward to that day, dear saints in Christ. Pray for it. Amen!
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.