Matthew 7:7-12 by Robert Dean
"Dad, may I have a fish?" When your child asks that, do you hand him a snake? Hardly! Listen to this lesson to learn why Jesus says this when teaching His disciples about prayer. See how true, genuine prayer is an expression of humility and how lack of prayer in our life points out our arrogance. Hear examples of prayer in the Old Testament and why God sometimes answers "No" to prayers. Accept the challenge of persistent prayer in your own spiritual life, both alone and in prayer meetings.

The Power of Persistent Prayer
Matthew 7:7-12
Matthew Lesson #043
July 20, 2014

The context is Jewish believers still within the age of Israel under the authority of the Mosaic Law. As Jesus is addressing His disciples it is also within the context of the message that dominated the first part of Jesus' public ministry, which was, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand".  We have to understand that everything that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount is somehow related to this kingdom message.

In Bible study, as we go through the process of observation, studying words, grammar, the context of what is being said by the author of the biblical book, often what appears to be the message on the surface changes, sometimes almost in a 180-degree opposite direction because we have come to understand the terminology that is there. We have seen this a number of times as we have gone through the Sermon on the Mount. By understanding this context of the kingdom message it shapes our understanding of what Jesus is saying. He is talking to His disciples in that original context about their message that they will have to be teaching and emphasizing when they are soon to be sent out to the house of Israel and the house of Judah with this same message about the kingdom.

Part of that message is going to include teaching and instruction about prayer. When we went through chapter six when Jesus' disciples asked Him about prayer I emphasized the fact that there was a kingdom emphasis in that prayer that is popularly known as "The Lord's prayer". It was not necessarily the prayer that the Lord prayed; it was the prayer that the Lord taught.

In the Sermon on the Mount there were several things that intervened between Jesus' teaching on prayer and His last statement here on prayer that we are studying in Matthew 7:7-12. Jesus has just been teaching about judging in vv. 1-6.

Verse 12 is an important verse: "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." This is called by many, "the golden rule". It may be noticed there are several difference to what is recorded in Luke, but Jesus is teaching the same thing in different contexts and He modified the illustration a little in the Luke passage where He talks about a neighbor coming to get bread in the middle of the night to feed unexpected visitors. He talks about a son asking for bread. There are different illustrations and it is not that there is a conflict in the Scripture; it is that they were taken from two different episodes.

But when we come to that last verse we ought to ask the question: what is the world is going on here that right in the middle of several things that Jesus has taught in relation to grace orientation and in relation to loving your neighbor as yourself, which is clearly what verse 12 concludes with, and He comes in with this section related to prayer? Jesus isn't just jumping around, Matthew isn't putting together something of a patchwork quilt of nice things that Jesus taught; Jesus is focused on a particular orientation.

What we have seen in our context is the contrast between the self-righteous orientation of the teaching of the Pharisees versus the genuine humility and grace orientation that should characterize the life of the believer who is applying the Mosaic Law. Remember He is talking to an audience composed of Jews. He is talking to them in the context that they are under the authority of the Mosaic Law, and He is emphasizing many different things that come right out of the instruction that Moses gave in Deuteronomy as to how they should live in the land. If they lived in a way produced experiential righteousness then God would bless them richly within the land and all of God's promises would come to fruition. On the other hand, if they are disobedient to the Law—which means that they are producing experiential wickedness, evil and unrighteousness—then God would bring judgment upon them, maybe even to the point of kicking them out of the land and scattering them among the nations in the fifth cycle of discipline. So Deuteronomy is clearly talking about experiential righteousness, and that is a major theme in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:20 NASB "For I say to you that unless your righteousness [experiential] surpasses {that} of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." And remember, entering the kingdom doesn't always mean getting into heaven when you die. Entering the kingdom is used of getting into heaven when you die in some passages. In other passages it is talking about experiencing the fullness and the richness of God's promised blessings in the kingdom. This is the message that Jesus is teaching during this phase of His ministry: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". That involved two aspects: a repentance in terms of unbelievers, which would mean acceptance of Jesus as Messiah, and for those who were already believers in the Old Testament sense they needed to get their life right and walk according to the instruction of the Mosaic Law.

If everyone in Israel at this time had accepted Jesus as Messiah and they had continued to live their life in disobedience to the Torah, the kingdom wouldn't come in because they would not be exhibiting the kind of righteousness necessary for the kingdom to come. That is what Deuteronomy was all about. They would have to turn to the Lord with their whole heart and walk in accordance with the Word of God otherwise the kingdom would not come in, because they wouldn't be qualified for it. 

The problem with the Pharisees was their arrogance. Arrogance is self-absorption. It is the opposite of humility and the opposite of grace, and we see Jesus making these contrasts over and over again. The Pharisees were interpreting the Law in ways that enabled them to superficially obey it, but they did it in order to be seen by men and not to be seen only by God. Their self-absorption would lead self-indulgence. Self-indulgence would lead to self-justification. Self-justification leads to self-deception. Self-deception means we are blind to our own failures and our own flaws.

If we are going to love one another we have to have an understanding of humility and grace. If we are operating on arrogance then we are loving ourselves and not loving others. If we are operating on arrogance and self-absorption then we are not operating on grace at all. We saw the principle last time that self-righteousness excludes humility and any expression of grace. So Jesus is going to come along here and talk about prayer.

Any true, genuine biblical prayer is an expression of humility and grace orientation. In prayer we are humbling ourselves under the might hand of God. We are submitting ourselves to God's authority. The essence of humility is to submit to the correct authority over us, which is God. So true, genuine prayer is an expression of grace orientation and an expression of humility. When we have a life that is not characterized by prayer that means it is probably characterized by arrogance and self-absorption, and dependence upon self to solve problems in our life rather than dependence upon God.

Jesus is also emphasizing the grace orientation is necessary for the kingdom to come in. This is going to become evident when we get down to verse 11.

Matthew 7:7, 8 NASB "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."

These are familiar verses that we have hopefully memorized and claimed at many times in our prayer life. It is a promise that expresses a universal principle related to prayer that is articulated throughout the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament.

It is not clear from the English translation but the grammar of the text reinforces the illustration that will come related the persistence in prayer. What we see are three basic verbs: ask, seek and knock. "Ask, and it will be given to you" is a present active imperative verb, AITEO, a primary word for making a request. It is an imperative of request. There are different nuances to an imperative mood. An imperative mood is not always a command. Jesus is using this as an imperative of command to His disciples. But when we pray to God and ask Him for something, often that is also put in the imperative, but that is an imperative of request.

We are being commanded to ask, seek, and knock. It is a present imperative. A present tense emphasizes continuous action. When you have a combination of a present tense with the imperative that emphasizes something that is supposed to continuously characterize the life of the believer. The other way in which an imperative might be expressed is with the aorist tense. That emphasizes a priority, something we need to do now. But this is emphasizing the asking, seeking and knocking as a continuous expression of prayer in our life. And so the present tense should be translated, to pick up on the nuance here, "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking". It is emphasizing persistence in the prayer request.

This has an Old Testament context to it.

2 Chronicles 1:7 we have a classic example. God appeared to Solomon at the beginning of Solomon's reign as king over Israel. "In that night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, 'Ask what I shall give you.'" It is a blank check. Then in the intervening verses to verse 11 Solomon asks for wisdom. He was a mature believer at that point in his reign. As a result God answers him, v. 11: "God said to Solomon, 'Because you had this in mind, and did not ask for riches, wealth or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may rule My people over whom I have made you king …" Solomon wasn't focused on the details of life, he was focused on the God who could give him everything else but the key issue was wisdom, which had to do with the application of God's Word in His own life. [12] "wisdom and knowledge have been granted to you. And I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings who were before you has possessed nor those who will come after you." This is an example of asking and God responding and fulfilling a request.

Deuteronomy 4:29 NASB "But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find {Him} if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." This helps us to understand a little bit about what it means when Jesus says to "seek and you shall find". It is a focused seeking, not just a casual, curious looking for something. This is a focused search for not just coming to know God, but to know His Word and be able to live according to His Word in a way that brings glory and honor to God. The Lord is saying that if you seek Him the Lord will reveal Himself to you, not apart from His Word but through His Word.

There are parallel passages to this later on in the prophets. Jeremiah is alluding to this in Jeremiah 29:13. Jeremiah chapter 29 is one of those great passages in the Old Testament. "You will seek Me and find {Me} when you search for Me with all your heart". In that chapter the context is that Israel is going to be defeated and overwhelmed and conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah writes a letter to those who have already been taken captive and tells them and he tells them this is all in God's plan. They are going to be taken out of the land and taken to Babylon, and there they should build houses and settle in the land in captivity, but that eventually God would rescue them and restore them to the land. But it would be seventy years, Jeremiah 21:10. That is the verse that Daniel is meditating on in Daniel chapter nine when he prayed to God and confessed the people's sin in preparation for that return.

In Jeremiah 29, which is a promise of their future restoration after seventy years, God goes on to say in v. 11 as a prelude to this: "For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." God has a positive plan for Israel even though He is going to take them out of the land and bring them under discipline for seventy years.

No matter what our circumstances may happen to be God still has a plan for our life, even though he may be taking us through testing for discipline's sake or testing just to produce maturity in our lives. 

Jeremiah 29:12 NASB "Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you".

"Call upon me" is a standard phrase used in the Scripture used for someone who is in a difficult crisis situation to call upon God for grace and for aid in a time of trouble. "I will listen to you" is another great promise. What is interesting is before this God said: "You are going to call upon me but you have been so disobedient I'm not going to listen". There are times when God doesn't listen, as we will see. But here He says: "Then you will call upon me … [13] You will seek Me and find {Me} when you search for Me with all your heart". So again we see this same emphasis, that seeking God isn't just a matter of a casual, curious looking for God but it is an intense focused search where we are studying God's Word, seeking Him in prayer, and God responds.

Another place where we see terminology related to seeking God is in 2 Chronicles 7:14. This is a passage where the context also has to be understood. This is a part of God's answer to Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple. In his prayer Solomon recognized that according to Deuteronomy chapter 28 and Leviticus chapter 26 God was eventually going to bring discipline on the nation Israel and scatter them throughout all nations. Solomon said: "Lord when this comes and you scatter the people throughout all nations, I pray that you will then show mercy and grace to them and bring them back to the land. So God answers that request of Solomon's and says, "Yes, I will bring them back under certain conditions". 

 NASB "and [if] My people [Israel] who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land".

"My people", which is used over 100 times in Chronicles, always refers to Israel and cannot be applied to anybody else because the application is Israel. You and I are not called by God's name; Israel is called by God's name. This relates only to Israel and the land that God has promised Israel.

This is an expression of a universal principle that is stated in Jeremiah 18:7-10 NASB "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy {it;} if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant {it;} if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it."

This can be to any kingdom. It is applied in Jeremiah to Israel but it is stating the universal principle. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not stating the universal principle, it is simply stating its application to Israel.

Jeremiah 18:8 NASB "if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it." That would apply to any nation.

But 2 Chronicles 7:14 applies to Israel. A change of life is part of that. This is what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not just a matter of imputed righteousness; it is a matter of experiential righteousness. And when the nation turns to God that is when God will establish the kingdom.

In 2 Chronicles 15:2, 4 we have a fascinating example. Asa was the third king of the southern kingdom after the split that occurred after the death of Solomon. Asa was a good king, a godly king. God blessed him with peace, as opposed to the time of his father Abijah when it was characterized by warfare, and in 2 Chronicles 14:11 there is a reference to Asa's prayer to God to give him victory over the Ethiopians who had invaded the southern kingdom. After that victory a prophet comes out to Asa, 15:2 NASB "… Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Seeking God is a prerequisite to God revealing Himself to anyone. If you want to know Him God will reveal Himself to you. [4] "But in their distress they turned to the LORD God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him."

So Jesus is just reiterating key Old Testament principles—ask, seek and knock—in relation to prayer.

The seeking of the Lord is also related to these end-time events that precede the ultimate return of the nation to the land. Jeremiah 50:4 NASB "In those days and at that time," declares the LORD, "the sons of Israel will come, {both} they and the sons of Judah as well; they will go along weeping as they go, and it will be the LORD their God they will seek." That immediately precedes the coming of the kingdom.

Hosea 3:5 NASB "Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days." This is the latter days of Israel. Again, this is the context of God restoring the people in the establishment of the kingdom.

Jeremiah 33:3 NASB "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know." This is also set within the context of the future restoration of Israel.

But sometimes we know that God says no. Ezekiel 7:25, 26 NASB "When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there will be none. Disaster will come upon disaster and rumor will be {added} to rumor; then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the law will be lost from the priest and counsel from the elders". God warned them that judgment was coming. They had reached the point of no return.

Jeremiah 11:11 NASB "Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them'." There are times when God says no because we have been so out of fellowship and are now under divine discipline, and God says we are going to go through it anyway. But He will still provide us with the grace and the sustenance to survive that situation.

Back to Matthew chapter seven. The principle is in verse 8: "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." It has to be under the right conditions, though. We need to be in fellowship, asking in humility, and we need to be asking according to God's revealed will. 

Then He gives an illustration. It is similar to the one given in Luke chapter eleven. Here it is modified a little bit. Matthew 7:9 NASB "Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?" He is emphasizing the fact that just as a human father who loves his children will give generously to provide for them, so God the Father will give generously to us. The application of God's grace towards us is made in verse 12 where we are to, in the same way, love one another as we love ourselves. [10] "Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?" You will give what they ask for because you love them. In the same way He is saying God will answer your prayer because He is a loving God who loves you.

Matthew 7:11 NASB "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 what is good to those who ask Him!"

In both the Luke passage and this passage Jesus points something out. He is pointing out the fact that even though these are believers they still have a sin nature. We all have a sin nature. The natural inclination of our corrupt heart is evil. Jeremiah says that: "The heart is evil and wicked above all things, who can know it? When we are saved we don't lose the sin nature. Its power is broken but we still have that nasty corrupt nature that seeks to pull us away from God. That is its orientation, and Jesus recognizes this with His disciples.

Even fallen unbelievers know how to do relatively good things, but that doesn't have any spiritual value. Carnal believers know how to do relatively good things, but that doesn't have any eternal significance. We call that human good as opposed to the good that the Holy Spirit produces within us, which we refer to as divine good. But in human good we know how to do relatively good things. The Bible doesn't say that just because you are totally depraved that you always do bad things. Total depravity just means that in our fallen nature every part of that nature is impacted by the corruption of sin. We are not absolutely depraved; we are totally depraved. There is a difference in that terminology. Every part of our being has been affected by sin so that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves; we must be dependent upon the grace of God. 

In the context of Matthew Jesus uses the term "good things". He doesn't use the term that Luke uses, which is in a slightly different context and a different message where Luke says, "How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" But when we compare the two statements it gives us a clue as to what Jesus is talking about here. He is talking about the kingdom. The Holy Spirit was promised to Israel when  the New Covenant was established when the kingdom would come in. When Jesus talks about the "good things" in Matthew chapter seven He is not restricting it as the Luke passage does to the coming of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant. He just uses the phrase to summarize all of the blessings that would come to Israel from the establishment of the kingdom. The application, though, to us even though we are not in the kingdom, even as the disciples never saw the kingdom because it was postponed, God still answers our prayers and bestows blessings upon us because of who He is and what Christ did for us on the cross.

Passages such as Ezekiel 36:25-27 emphasize the giving of the Spirit in the New Covenant period when it is established, especially verse 27 NASB "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." 

Joel 2:28-32 NASB "It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls."

God says in vv. 28, 29 that He is going to pour out His Spirit at that time that is just prior to the end of the Tribulation and the establishment of the kingdom at the time of the "great and awesome say of the Lord". 

To understand the emphasis that Jesus is making in Matthew chapter seven is that the disciples were to pray in light of the coming of the kingdom—just as He had emphasized with the Lord's prayer. We should be persistent in asking for that, and not just that but for all things that are related to God's blessings in our lives.  

Matthew 7:12 NASB  "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

He is drawing a comparison. If a good, righteous God who is our Father gives in abundance what we ask of Him, so too, when men ask us of things we should deal with them as our heavenly Father deals with us. It is an expression of Leviticus 19:18, that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

When it comes to prayer, we as believers need to make it a much higher priority. I think one of the saddest realities in our world today is that we are so busy that people just don't show up at prayer meetings. It should be one of the most well attended things that we do at church, because prayer is a priority not just individually but for the congregation to come together and pray together. 

1 John 5:14, 15 NASB "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us {in} whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."