Closing Thoughts – March 12, 2023, Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55:6-13, Matthew 7:15-29
March 12, 2023
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Have you ever heard that saying before? “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s been attributed to either Irish poet Oscar Wilde or Will Rogers. But nobody’s really sure.
But whoever came up with it, it’s certainly something to think about considering our thoughts from last week. If you remember, last week I asked you to think about “How they see us.” What “first impressions” do we make as God’s people? I hope you’ve been thinking about that.
At the same time, I think there’s also something to be said for last impressions. I was trying to come up with a catchy way of saying that, like the one about first impressions. But I couldn’t make it work! Maybe you can come up with something!
At any rate, I think Jesus did both in this “Sermon on the Mount.” The greatest sermon ever preached! He made a good “first impression,” and he had some great “closing thoughts” And that’s what we’re looking at today.
Jesus’ first impression in this sermon was masterful. It’s been said that, in giving speeches, it’s good to start with short sentences that grab people’s attention, and are easy to remember. And here Jesus did just that. He made these short, memorable statements that were amazing, and that revealed the very heart of God!
Do you remember? He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Those are wonderful aren’t they? And the great thing about them is that, once he made those statements – those “Beatitudes” – he could then elaborate more. He could go into more lengthy topics, because he had the people’s attention! He made a great “first impression” that way!
Well, it’s also been said, in giving speeches, that the last thing you say will often be the thing people will remember the most. It could be said that “Closing thoughts are lasting impressions.” Maybe that’s the catchy phrase I was looking for! “Closing thoughts are lasting impressions.”
And that’s true, isn’t it? We tend to remember most what a speaker says last. So, it’s important to think about the last thing a person says. And, if the person is a good speaker, they will have thought carefully about what they wanted to say in their closing thoughts. They will have been very intentional about their “last impressions.” And Jesus was a great speaker!
Of course, there are some who are not. There are some people who don’t know these things about giving good speeches. And I’m sure you’ve heard some! There have been times I’ve listened to a speech, or a sermon, and I’ve said, “That person had a great ending. It’s too bad that they went way past it! (Or, they had several great endings! They should have chosen one and stuck with it!)
Well, here we have Jesus’ “closing thoughts” for the whole the Sermon on the Mount. Think about it. This is the last thing he wanted the people to think about. This is the “lasting impression” he wanted to leave with them! And this is a great ending!
We picked up our reading a little before his ending. We started with this statement “Beware of false prophets.” There, he gives the people the advice that, “You will know them by the fruits they produce.” I think that’s good advice for all of us. Jesus often uses the metaphor of fruit, especially in talking about how people see us. What fruits will people see in our lives? Will they see the “love, Joy, peace, patience, and kindness” that Paul wrote about in his letter to the Galatians?
That’s a good lead up to what I think are his closing thoughts, which really start in verse 21. There he gives this warning. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven.” And he doesn’t use a long illustration at this point. He keeps it simple, saying, “It won’t be those who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but those who do God’s will.”
Then he gives them these rather ominous words. “And on that day many will say to me, ‘Did we not prophesy, and cast out demons, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then will I say to them, ‘I never knew you!’” Again, what an ominous statement! I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me think every time I read it!
So then, while they were pondering that ominous statement, he tells them this parable, the parable about the two men and the houses that they built. One built his house on the sand and one built on the rock. And as he tells this story, as he gives them what were his closing thoughts on the whole Sermon on the Mount, he was focused on what? The story was about those who hear his words and do them, and those who don’t.
That’s it. That’s his closing thought. That’s what they would be thinking about when they were walking home! Jesus is all about doing! I have to think that James probably had these thoughts in mind when he talked about being “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” In fact, I wonder if he was there that day, and heard the Sermon on the Mount!
Jesus was saying, “I can say all these things, I can give you all this advice and guidance for your lives, but if you only hear what I say, and don’t put it into practice, you are like the man who built his house on the sand.” “And it really didn’t matter if you were listening!”
And think about that house. That man didn’t necessarily build a bad house, you know! Maybe it was a nice house, a house, which under normal circumstances, would have served the man well for many years – if Jesus had told it that way. But, as he told the story, it was when the storms came against the house that it fell! That was the problem!
And isn’t that the same with our lives. Without the storms, things can be going along just fine. We’re happy and content, and life is great! But, when those storms of life hit us, when we’re knocked about by the winds and waves of life’s problems and frustrations, what will our “house” be built on? Will we have built our house upon the rock, or the sand? And building on the rock is hearing the teachings of Jesus and doing them! That’s what will give our lives stability, and sustenance, and meaning!
And thinking about what we talked about last week, that will be “How they see us.” When we’re hearing these words of Jesus and we’re doing them, they will see it. When the storms of life hit us, and we’re able to endure because of the firm foundation of our faith, they will see it. When we’re able to have the hope and peace that they’re looking for, because we’re able to rely on our rock to sustain us in the tough times, they will see it.
And so, in the end, it will be us who will be leaving that “last impression.” And what will that look like?
Eternal God, in Jesus Christ you do give our lives meaning! Help us to have the strength to “do his words,” and to follow his teaching. They will know us by our fruits, and may they be the good fruits of your Spirit! This things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.