Matthew 7:7-11

“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are 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! [1]


There are two ways to examine the Sermon on the Mount. One way is to view it as a list of exalted but humanly attainable moral guidelines (or mere “rules” for successful living). Those who hold this view believe this sermon is the only necessary part of Bible. The rest can be ignored. They see it as coming authentically from a famous rabbi without being cluttered by the theologizing of the epistles or the fake stories of miracles. According to this view anyone with some moral education and a little discipline can revolutionize themselves and perhaps even the world.

All human beings are creatures of law at heart. We love rules and regulations and fancy ourselves as able to keep them even if others around us are constantly failing at following the rules. As we saw last week, this is why we pretend and perform and criticize others for not being able to keep our rules. This view of the sermon is dominated by the presumption that man is basically good. It is an astonishingly shallow view of God’s holy law. It always brings failure.

The second way to approach this sermon is with humility and a deep sense of our desperate need for God’s grace. Far from being non-theological, this view sees the law of the sermon as deeply theological and profoundly demanding. In fact, Christ’s law requires perfection: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (5:48). Those who approach God’s law in this way understand the first Beatitude in a way mere moralists do not.

Those who take this second approach understand that the law teaches poverty of spirit, a sense of moral bankruptcy, and the realization that one cannot live out God’s law in their own power. We must approach God as beggars and receive his freely-given grace to attempt the impossible. That is the context of this entire sermon.

In verses 7-11, Jesus describes the way a person who understands this sermon should pray. We have all heard the numerous ways in which Jesus’ wonderful statement has been shredded from its context and abused. We have heard preachers tell us that the Bible says if we ask, seek, and knock we can have anything we want. All we have to do is ask for it with faith and persistence and we will surely earn it. After all, James wrote, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). All we need to do is name it and claim it. God is a cosmic vending machine. Put your quarter’s worth of prayer in and press the button.

Ripping this statement out of context is a drastic mistake. The broad context of the whole sermon shows the surpassing righteousness, humility, sincerity, purity, and sacrificial love commanded of those who are members of God’s Kingdom. Those Kingdom powers are far beyond human achievement apart from God’s grace. The law underscores our need.

In the first six verses Jesus has shown us the danger of criticizing others as if we had the right to judge. He told us to get the plank out of our own eye before trying to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else’s. He issued a chilling warning, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” It is possible for us to be so intent on appearing righteous that we miss the gospel entirely. Those who do so may impress others in their gospel community with their moralism, but they will never enter into the joy of God’s heavenly presence.

We are in desperate need of God’s grace. That is one of the primary things that law is supposed to teach us. We need to be cleansed. But the question is, from where does this cleansing grace come? Jesus answers, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you” (v. 7).

Jesus is not handing us a blank check to buy all of our material desires. He is telling us how to pray for the character of the Kingdom in our lives. It instructs us how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It teaches us to pray that our morality and ethics will be like that of Jesus. He teaches us how to pray for our spiritual welfare.


Jesus begins by discussing our attitude. “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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

The three verbs Jesus uses “ask… seek… knock” command increasing intensity. Asking implies a request for a conscious need. It also requires humility, since this word is commonly used of one asking something from a superior. The next step requires action, it is not merely asking. It requires us to find the one who can provide. It implies getting up and looking around for help. It involves effort. Knocking includes asking and acting with the addition of perseverance – like pounding on a closed door.

These words are forcefully stacked upon one another, and they are couched in the present imperative tense, giving them even more impact. In Greek, there are two kinds of imperatives, or commands. The aorist imperative gives one kind of definite command, such as “sit,” or “stay,” or “come.” The other form of command is called the present imperative. It commands continuous action: “Keep on asking and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be open to you.

Verses 7 and 8 are extremely intense, leaving no doubt that our Lord meant for them to be understood this way. Luke records the same words in his gospel (Luke 11:9, 10), where Jesus’ commands follow a short introductory parable in verses 5-8:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘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’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.[2]

Jesus teaches us “beggars’ logic.” We are to persist in asking for God’s grace as though we are beggars. Spiritually speaking, we are always beggars. We can ask in the confidence that the one who responds to our petitions, who reveals himself to our seeking, and who opens his heart to our knocking, is a Father to us.[3]

If a person prays, they will pray in harmony with their view of the god to whom they are praying. If the gods are capricious, as the Greeks and Romans believed, then men will come warily and on their guard. If the god is vengeful, a man will be fearful. If God is gracious, as Jesus Christ declared the true God to be, then the one who believes in him can come boldly and persistently. And he will not fear to ask for good gifts of the One who is declared to be his Father.

We naturally persist in our prayers when someone close to us is sick. If a loved one becomes ill, we pray without ceasing. If we are in financial trouble or if we are hoping for a promotion or if we have a scary or dangerous task ahead of us, we find it easy to pray. But do we persist in our prayers for spiritual growth for ourselves and others? Do we keep on asking, seeking, and knocking for a pure heart? Do we persist in asking for a forgiving spirit or for the removal of an angry or critical spirit?

We give ourselves to enthusiastic persistent prayer for our spiritual needs only when we sense our need for God’s grace. His Kingdom requires righteousness, perfection. God called his people to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Jesus told us only “the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8). We know that even though we do things we think are good, our flesh is shot through with sin.

All of us, Jews and Gentiles, are under sin (Romans 3:9). Hearing God’s perfect standard and seeing our sin drives us to our knees and to his grace. We are reminded that there is no hope apart from his unearned favor. There is no hope for spiritual improvement apart from his continuing love and mercy. The one who sees this rejoices at Jesus’ invitation to be asking, be seeking, be knocking.

We are commanded to ask and keep on asking for those Kingdom powers to be displayed more and more in us so that we are more and more like Jesus. We are to seek and keep on seeking. We are to knock and keep on knocking. We are to persevere in our pursuit of God’s treasure with the same fervor we would pursue earthly treasure.

British archaeologist Howard Carter was convinced there was one more tomb in the Valley of the Kings where ancient pharaohs had been buried for over 500 years. The rest of the academic world was convinced all the tombs had been found and all the graves had been robbed of their treasure. Carter had to raise private funds for his search since no museum, foundation, or government would do so.

Twice during his six-year search he came within two yards of the first stone step leading to the burial chamber. Finally, in 1922, he found it – the priceless untouched tomb of King Tutankhamen. His discovery was one of the greatest finds in Egyptology. How much greater our rewards when we persevere in praying for God’s spiritual treasures to be manifested in us! The young boy king left all of his treasure behind. But our treasure is God himself. His Kingdom power never fades and is always available for the asking.

The poor in spirit must keep on begging for our spiritual treasure. Why? Does God take some perverse pleasure in withholding his good from us? No! His goodness to us includes the humility, the patience, and persistence we develop as we learn to pray to reflect more of his treasure through the person and work of the Holy Spirit.


Not only does Jesus command us to pray with persistence, but he also commands us to pray with confidence. He has assured us that if we keep asking, seeking, and knocking the Father will answer us. The only condition for our receiving spiritual treasure is persistence. If we keep on seeking, we will keep on finding more spiritual growth, more understanding, and more intimacy with God. Jesus’ promise is not a blank check for anything I want in life. God knows the absolute most important thing we need is Him.

What Jesus is saying is really nothing more than an expansion on what he has already commanded, “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33). What are we to seek? We are to seek the Beatitudes of the Kingdom. These things are ours already by means of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in us – if you are trusting into the perfectly lived, law keeping life of the resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ and trusting into his sacrificial blood-shedding death as the penalty for our sins.

Because our new Jesus 1.0 software full of Beatitudes is running on our old corrupt sinful hardware, we must strive after them. We do not strive by rolling up our sleeves and trying to manage our flesh. We pursue these things through humble, persistent petitions to our Dear Heavenly Father who will, in his perfect timing, give them to us.

We may ask the Heavenly Father for anything. But he has not obligated himself to give us everything. He has only obligated himself to give us more of his character to be increasingly displayed in us and through us in this life. We mostly pray for God to change the circumstances of our lives we do not like. Those circumstances are given to us by God for our spiritual growth.

Have you ever looked back on your life, remembered some of your prayers, and thanked God for not answering them? If you took a brief stroll through your history, you might find much to be grateful for in unanswered prayers. On the other hand, how amazing it is that God always answers our persistent prayers for spiritual growth. So, if you want answered prayers in difficult circumstances, maybe you should be asking God to change you before he changes your circumstances.

Jesus assures us his promises are true using illustrations taken from earthly fatherhood. “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” Many of the stones on the hillside where Jesus was preaching were rounded and flat like Middle Eastern bread. Those are the same kind of stones that Satan tempted Jesus to turn into bread after he had fasted in the wilderness. Many of the local fish caught and cooked were eels, resembling snakes. What earthly father would give his hungry children something that only vaguely resembled food but had no real value?

Jesus uses another illustration of our heavenly Father: “11 If you then, who are 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!” You might have noticed Jesus has used several times in this sermon the argument from lesser to greater. This is one of those places. God is our Dear Heavenly Father. He is holy, perfect, without any sin. Picture an earthly father at his best and multiply that by infinity. Isaiah says:

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. [4]

Jesus’ question “how much more” has in infinite answer – only partially fulfilled in the “already,” but eternally fulfilled in the “not yet” of a new earth where God will tabernacle with us and we will be completely fulfilled in Him. We will have our new hardware to perfectly run our spiritual software.

An earthly father might never give his child a flat stone instead of flat bread. But the earthly father will still make mistakes. Parents often think they’re doing the right thing only later to discover they were absolutely wrong. But God never makes mistakes. It is his policy to give greater quality and quantity than we can imagine in our prayers. So wrote Paul to the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.[5]

Luke’s parallel passage to the one we are studying gives us insight into the mechanics of God’s giving that fits perfectly with the passage we just read from Ephesians:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”[6]

Luke’s substitution of “Holy Spirit” for “good things” is no accident or contradiction. It is the Holy Spirit who bestows upon us and works in us what is good. The Holy Spirit knows what we need far better than we do! Paul tells the Romans this:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[7]

We cannot begin to ask or imagine the good gifts God has in store for us. Only God the Holy Spirit knows how to ask and imagine on our behalf. He not only imagines, he makes it happen in his own good time according to the great Triune God’s plan for you.

Our assurance is that God will give us anything that is good for us spiritually – absolutely anything! All we have to do is keep pursuing him. And he is not far. Even better news: though your flesh hates pursuing God, the Holy Spirit within you loves to build your desire to pursue God and will do so!

Imagine what would happen if we prayed for these Beatitudes to be increasingly manifested in us and in our brothers and sisters as intensely as we pray for our physical needs and our circumstances. The church would explode with a new energy it had never known before. Our pulpits would be filled with powerful preaching. Missions, both local and foreign, would never know want of workers or funding.

Do you really want the character of God’s Kingdom in your life through the work of the Holy Spirit? Then you must be moved to do two things. First, to seek persistently. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. Never stop asking God to display his Kingdom power in you. Do you ever pray like that?

Second, we are to ask confidently. We ask resting in the knowledge that God is not only able to give but he delights to give good gifts to his children. What we lack is our fault. As James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). God may not change your circumstances, but he will always increase your ability to endure them and to reflect Christ’s glory in a lost and dying world.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 7:7–11.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 11:5–8.

[3] Ferguson, 157.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 49:15.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 3:20–21.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 11:13.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:26–27.