Matthew’s gospel is the second most popular book of the Bible (Psalms is first). Part of the reason for its popularity is what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in chapters 5-7. Jesus’ teaching begins with an introduction that features the Beatitudes and transitions into a commission to be salt and light in our world. From there, He discusses the true meaning of Torah righteousness—what it means to live out the law of God in our lives as opposed to the distorted caricatures the religious leaders provided through their behavior and teaching. This begins with Jesus’ talking about His relationship to the Law and the Prophets (5:17-20) and concludes with Him summing them up (7:12).
The remainder of chapter 7 is an exhortation for His disciples to take these words to heart and live them out in their daily lives. The emphasis is on the doing of the law. He speaks of entering through the narrow gate, watching out for false prophets, doing the will of His Father and putting His words into practice. The blessing is in doing, not knowing (John 13:17). “Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility” (John Climacus).
Jesus speaks not only in pictures (gates, roads, wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc.), but in pairs (wise man and foolish man, good trees and bad trees). The result of this is that His words are clear, convincing and powerful. They might be challenging to follow (and they are), but they are not difficult to understand.
Jesus makes it clear in these verses that there is no such thing as an unintentional disciple. The small, narrow gate suggests perhaps the idea of slowing down and perhaps going through it in single file as opposed to the wider gate where large groups of people wander through. The same is true of the narrow road which must be navigated with careful attention. To take these verses as a commentary of how many will be saved or lost is not the point—Jesus is simply telling us that at any given time, being a disciple demands discipline.
It also involves discernment. There are many things in the world that glitter but are not gold. There are people who present themselves as harmless who are in fact hurtful. You should judge them not by their press releases or what they post about themselves on social media, but by the fruit of their lives. Douglas Hare suggests Jesus is referring to itinerant teachers common to that time (see Matthew 24:11; 2 Peter 2; 2 John 7-11). Disciples might be tempted to judge them solely on the basis of the astounding things they do (Mathew 7:22, 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10), but that would be a mistake. Paul will speak of doing great things and yet being far away from God (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The real test is doing the will of God (Matthew 7:21, 12). That is the fruit that counts. This would seem at some point to also have to include their teaching. The prophet Micah foretold of national judgment coming upon Israel (1:6-7) and Judah (3:12). The false prophets of his time spoke against him and said judgment wouldn’t come (2:6, 3:11). Their fruit was rotten and is that of anyone who’s teaching disagrees with God.
With this we arrive at the two builders. The difference between them isn’t their skill set or the materials they use. It is all about where they choose to build. One builds on an unsettled site while the other builds on rock. It’s easy to have a sandcastle faith that focuses of our kingdom rather than God’s. After all, we have bucket lists while Jesus had a basin list. A sandcastle faith will not stand the storms of life. Neither will the faith that is all talk and no walk. The only thing that survives is a faith that “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24).
Built to withstand means not built on sand.