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Matthew 7:7-11 "Practical Righteousness, Part 3b: Receiving Mercy"

This post continues the discussion begun in last week’s post


Disciples Must Receive Mercy (vv. 7-12)

As expected, the positive command of what to start doing comes in v. 7. Rather than a single present imperative, Jesus now uses three: start asking (αἰτεῖτε), start seeking (ζητεῖτε), and start knocking (κρούετε). While the pattern holds true, this change hints at a change in direction. We would do well to notice that Jesus latches on to the idea of asking throughout this section (vv. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Also, it is worth noting that the command to seek is repeated from 6:33. In addition, knocking paves the way for Jesus’ concluding illustrations of kingdom entrance (vv. 13-27). It is therefore better to understand Jesus preparing to transition from addressing those whom He has called to follow Him (such as those called in 4:18-22) and those in the crowd who are interested but have not yet made up their minds regarding this Galilean teacher.


To this we should also note the inclusio found in v. 12 as the counterpart to 5:17. These words not only support all that Jesus has instructed regarding the need to repent of judgmentalism and the need for mercy, but this is also a fitting conclusion to the major point of Jesus’ sermon.


Mercy Promised (vv. 7-11)

It may be necessary to remind ourselves that these verses not only complete the call to repentance issued in v. 1 (stop judging) but also correspond with Jesus’ teaching of merciful charity (6:1-4). In short, there is a connection between those who must show mercy (vv. 1-6) and those who receive it (vv. 7-12). Those who receive mercy are those humble enough to ask for it (vv. 7-8). These humble mercy seekers are thereby encouraged with a promise of security (vv. 9-11).


Call to Seek Mercy (vv. 7-8)

Start asking and it will be given to you. Start seeking and you will find. Start knocking and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will receive, and he who seeks will find, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.


As already stated, and in accordance with Jesus’ pattern throughout this section, the present tense imperatives (αἰτεῖτε, ζητεῖτε, κρούετε) indicate what disciples are to start doing. The emphasis is therefore on the initiation of action (start asking, seeking, knocking) rather than on the continuation of action (keep asking, seeking, knocking). That three commands are given instead of only one may indicate a sense of urgency. This of course assumes that all three commands (1) overlap in meaning and nuance, (2) maintain some connection to the ideas expressed in vv. 1-6, and (3) provide a bridge to Jesus’ conclusion in vv. 13-27. To say that Jesus now returns to the general topic of prayer and thus exhorts His followers to pray earnestly is therefore not a satisfactory explanation. A general exhortation to pray in relentless earnestness, while holding these commands together, is an altogether different topic than vv. 1-6 and fails to adequately link the sermon’s conclusion to the body.

It is generally accepted that which is holy and the pearls of v. 6 are references to the gospel of the kingdom. The narrow way, tree bearing good fruit, Jesus guarding the entrance, and solid foundation (vv. 13-27) are all indicative of that same kingdom. It would be strange indeed if these verses, arranged in between these sections, do not have a specific kingdom nuance. It is not only the context that makes this interpretation mandatory, but if we take our Lord’s words even slightly seriously, we are faced with no other alternative.


Each command is accompanied by a promise. The future indicates that follow each present imperative promise the result that is in connection with these commands (Matt. 5:25; 6:33; 10:17; 19:21; 20:4; 21:2; 28:10). In keeping with the eschatological theme of this sermon, Jesus uses the future tense to emphasize the eschatological promises attached to these commands. He commands His disciples to ask because what they ask for will be given (δοθήσεται). They are to seek because they will find (εὑρήσετε). They are to knock because it will be opened to them (ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν). The divine passives (will be given/will be opened) clearly indicate that the Father will be the one who gives and opens. If this is an exhortation regarding general prayer, then it is difficult not to argue that Jesus provides His disciples with a blank check to be filled out and cashed in at their discretion. The following verse makes it clear that Jesus has no exceptions in mind. Every asker receives. The one who seeks finds. The one who knocks it will be opened. These are blanket statements that come with zero qualifications regarding who asks, seeks, and knocks or the manner in which they do so. Asking, seeking, and knocking will always have the result of receiving, finding, and it being opened for every man, woman, and child who asks, seeks, and knocks. Therefore, the only thing that keeps this promise from being a general blank check to be filled out by the believer is the content of what is asked for, sought, and the door upon which the disciple knocks. The only question that remains is this: does Jesus provide us with the identity of these things?


Of the three commands (ask, seek, knock), the second and middle is the most obvious. Only seven verses previously Jesus commanded His disciples to prioritize seeking the Father’s kingdom and righteousness above all else (6:33). What else could Jesus possibly intend but that those who seek the kingdom will find it? The third and final command to knock anticipates the small gate and narrow way that leads to life (vv. 13-14). The search for the kingdom leads to a desire and determination to gain entrance into it. Those who find this kingdom and knock will certainly and without hesitation or reservation be permitted entrance. It is the first command to ask that seems to give interpreters pause. What are disciples to ask for? Once again, context must reign supreme. The entire section harkens back to the prescription of mercy or charity in 6:1-4. Mercy is the antithesis of judgmentalism and must be precipitated by humility (7:1-5). Mercy is extended to and rejected by the dogs and hogs (v. 6). The response of a merciful father to the plight of starving children is illustrated in vv. 9-11. What is asked for is simply that: mercy. Those who ask the Father for mercy will indeed be given mercy.


So much more than a general appeal to pray with persistence, these verses are (1) evangelistic in their call, (2) eschatological in their reasoning, and (3) contextually consistent in their logic. Evangelistically: those who ask for mercy are aware of the fact that they are in need of mercy. They are truly poor in spirit (5:3a). Jesus encourages such men to start asking for mercy now. Eschatologically: those who ask for mercy are promised to receive it. Those who are poor in spirit are promised the kingdom of heaven (5:3b). There is an eschatological reward for those who ask now. Contextually: there is a connection between those who ask for mercy and those who show mercy. Rather, those who show mercy are marked as those who receive it (5:7). Thus, Jesus calls His disciples to repent of mercilessness (7:1) by humbling themselves to the point where they must first ask God for mercy and thereby enabling them to show mercy to their poor twig impaled brother. This asking permeates the rest of these verses because it is the logical first step. One cannot knock on a door he has not yet found. One cannot seek a kingdom of which he has not mercifully been made a citizen. Therefore, he must humbly ask the Father for His mercy.


The promises that Jesus has made are massive in their content and implications. How can one be certain that these promises will be kept? Jesus appeals to God’s character as a Father by using even the flawed character of fathers as an illustration.


Promise to Secure Mercy Illustrated (vv. 9-11)

Or what man is there from you who, if his son should ask for bread, he will not give to him a stone will he? Or also, if he asks for a fish, he will not give to him a snake, will he? If therefore you, being evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more your Father who is in Heaven will give what is good to those who ask Him.


Jesus’ illustration directly involves His audience: what man among you… Looking out among the crowd, Jesus dares such a man to step forward. Who would give his own child a stone when they ask for bread? It’s important to understand that Jesus doesn’t have in mind a cruel practical joke, but rather that even this human audience wouldn’t give useless gifts to their children. If a child asked for bread (ἄρτος) it is because they are hungry. The ancient world knew nothing of a guaranteed three square meals a day, starvation being more of a rule than an exception. Doubtlessly, most of the fathers in this crowd have experienced their hungry children ask them for bread. A child has little to no pride when it comes to recognizing their needs. To ask for bread is not an extravagant request. If there’s no bread in the house, then there’s no food in the house. They are in need of sustenance, so they ask their father for food. What kind of a father would then give his hungry children a stone? The point is very simple and should not be over-thought: a stone is worthless for satisfying hunger or sustaining the body. This “gift” is utterly futile and without value as it would serve to only mock their child’s pain. No gift would be better than this “gift”.


This point increases in emphasis with the next illustration. Remembering that Jesus is addressing Galileans, whose fishing industry is the mainstay of the local economy, to ask for a fish is again noting extravagant. For His illustration, Jesus transitions from something useless to something dangerous. While ὄφις (serpent/snake) does not specifically refer to a venomous snake, the Bible always associates this reptile as something dangerous if not downright evil. Unlike the stone, a serpent could be eaten if one is desperate enough. A trusting and hungry child might even attempt to do so. But this is not what he asked for. The point is not that the “father” in these illustrations refused their children, but that they provided “gifts” that fall far short of meeting the genuine needs of their children.


Jesus assumes that the answer to bother illustrations is negative. Not one father among them would be so heartless and cruel. All would undoubtedly show mercy to their hungry children who ask for sustenance. The first-class conditional statement assumes that the protasis is true in order to emphasize the apodosis. These men know how to give good gifts to their children. They would gladly and readily give bread and fish to their children who ask for them. They know this even though they are by nature evil. Each of them is by nature self-serving and selfish, yet this does not inhibit them from knowing good gifts (gifts that correspond with the need) from bad. If this is true, what might this say regarding your heavenly Father? He is not evil, but is righteous and perfect (5:48). If His children ask for mercy, would He refuse them or provide some far inferior substitute? Of course, He wouldn’t!


Once again, Jesus restricts this language to those who are indeed God’s children (5:9, 16, 45, 48; 6:1, 46, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32). Those who belong to God as His children have no reason to doubt His gracious and merciful giving but have only to ask. All who ask the Father for mercy will certainly receive it. This reality not only provides the confidence to ask, but also dictates the manner in which disciples interact with others. God’s gracious gift of mercy to those who humbly ask in faith summarizes the whole of Scripture.


Mercy Revealed as the Law and the Prophets (v. 12)

Therefore, in all things, whatever you might desire that men do to you, thus also you are to start doing to them. For this is the Law and the Prophets.


This “golden rule” has been recognized by even the strictest of pagans for its value. If people treated everyone as they would like to be treated, this would certainly be a harmonious world. Yet this understanding presents the standard in a subjective and man-centered manner. Many people have a distorted if not twisted view how they want to be treated and thus would clash violently with others who expect to be treated in a very different manner. Jesus is not providing a subjective blueprint for a worldly utopia. Rather, He is summarizing the entirety of His objective and biblical teaching up to this point regarding the kingdom and the righteousness that is demanded of its citizens. This statement is not given to the world at large but is pronounced to those who at least consider themselves to be citizens of the Father’s kingdom.


Later, when asked which of the commandments is the greatest (Matt. 22:34-40), Jesus responds by combining Deut. 6:5 (you shall love Yhwh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength) and Lev. 19:18c (you shall love your neighbor as yourself). On these two commandments rest the Law and the Prophets. The summary in chapter 22 takes as a guide the Ten Commandments which first outline a right relationship with God (Ex. 20:3-11) before articulating what a right relationship with one’s neighbor looks like (Ex. 20:12-17). The point in both places is that the latter (right relationship with neighbor) assumes the former (right relationship with God). The command to love one’s neighbor assumes one’s love of God and thus flows out of it.


Jesus began His sermon by pronouncing blessing upon those who love God (5:3-10). What follows demands that disciples’ love of neighbor be held to the same righteous standard as their love of God and thus surpasses the faux righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20-48). Their love of God must be shown to God rather than used as an attempt to gain approval from men (6:1-18). And from this love of God flows righteous love for their neighbor (6:19-7:12). This is a summary of all the Law and Prophets.


This final statement not only works as an inclusio for Jesus’ sermon (5:17), thus proving that He has taught nothing to contradict or overrule the Old Testament but has in fact enforced all that the Scriptures teach. Yet this statement goes even further. If we keep in mind that the overarching theme of these sections is that of mercy, Jesus’ statement becomes even more poignant. This summary statement reveals that the entire Old Testament revolves around God’s mercy. The laws demanding merciful and righteous conduct of God’s people are based upon those who have received God’s mercy. The Ten Commandments begin with a reminder that it is Yhwh who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 20:1-2). They have been shown mercy. The prophets continually rebuked Israel for their lack of mercy while exhorting her to repent and seek Yhwh’s mercy. Those who ask for God’s mercy receive it. Those who receive God’s mercy are expected to show it. This is the Law and the Prophets as taught by the Teacher of Righteousness: Jesus, the new Moses, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God.

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