Read Matthew 7:21-19
Many people would say the words we have just read are the scariest words in the Bible. This is how Jesus wraps up the Sermon on the Mount. There has been deep, profound, wonderful, challenging teaching about life in the Kingdom of God. How does He pull that all together at the end?
Jesus is talking about the judgement that will happen when we stand before God’s throne. Notice in v.22, He refers to people talking to Him “on that day”. “That day” always refers to the Day of Judgement. And notice that Jesus will be the judge. People make their appeals to Him and He proclaims the judgement.
Without any pretentiousness or arrogance, Jesus simply speaks of the fact that, at the end of time, He will be the judge. The people didn’t question it. They were amazed at the authority with which He taught. Everything He said was truth.
On that day, people will say, “Lord, Lord.” But Jesus says they will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They expect to. “But, Lord, didn’t we do amazing things and didn’t we do them in your name?” They cannot believe they are not being admitted to the Kingdom. Surely, after all they have done for Jesus!
How many people are fully expecting to get into heaven but will get an awful shock at the judgement? They have lived confident that they will be saved and then they find they are not to be and they are banished from Jesus’ presence to spend eternity in hell. How scary is that?
Professing to be a Christian is not enough. Many people refer to Jesus as ‘the Lord’ but is He really their Lord? Words are not enough. A lord is someone you obey.
But these people had gone beyond words. They had lived publicly claiming the name of Jesus. They had ministered in the name of Jesus: prophecy, driving out demons, miracles. This is significant ministry and presumably only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was all done in the name of Jesus.
And yet: “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
How can people who have prophesied and delivered people from demons and performed miracles, in the name of Jesus, be evildoers? These words are a bit confusing. Did they really do these things? Presumably. Was it really in Jesus’ name? Presumably they used Jesus’ name but was Jesus working through them or was their power actually demonic? Was the whole Jesus thing a deception?
What do we know about these people? They appeared to be Christians but Jesus said a) He didn’t know them, b) they were evildoers and c) they had not obeyed God,. The fact that He didn’t know them indicates that they didn’t have a relationship with Him; they had never entered that relationship through repentance and faith. They were not listening to and obeying God. Instead they lived evil lives albeit probably as part of the Christian community and outwardly appearing to be Christians. In other words, there can be people in the church who do and say all the right things but are not Christians.
The things that Jesus identifies as being lacking are faith (the saving faith that would have brought them into a relationship with Jesus), righteousness and obedience.
If they really were prophesying and exorcising demons and performing miracles, it cannot really have been in the name of Jesus. Jesus didn’t even know them.
Matt 24:24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
2 Thess 2:9-10 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
Paul there talks about those who are perishing being deceived. His verdict is that they perish because they refuse to love the truth.
Christians don’t need to worry about these words. These people weren’t Christians. Three vital things were missing: faith, righteousness and obedience.
And I am sure Jesus doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. The scriptures say we all sin but we can repent and be forgiven.
However, don’t relax too soon. Notice how Jesus defines Christians as people of faith, righteousness and obedience. I’ve said this many times before. I am sure you must be sick of it, but many people believe that all you have to do to be saved is go forward at an evangelistic meeting or invite Jesus into your heart or pray the sinner’s prayer. That is it! At that point they are saved. Is that what Jesus says here?
No. That might be how someone enters this relationship; it might be an expression of faith in Jesus, but Jesus also talked about not doing evil and obeying God. In fact, He said, “Only those who do the will of my Father (will enter the Kingdom of heaven)”.
We are saved by God’s grace. It is a free gift to those who have faith but what is then expected of Christians? Obedience. Only those who do God’s will will be saved. So it is still true that there might be lots of people who thought that it was sufficient to say that they trust Jesus and find that they do not get into the Kingdom. It is all about obedience.
In Luke’s version of this passage Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?” (6:46). It is about doing it. That is when we know He really is Lord. James says that faith with works is useless. Paul said his ministry was to call people to faith and obedience (Rom 1:5, 16:26). 1 John 2:4: Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. Jesus described disciples as those who obey all that He has commanded (Matt 28:20). Obedience is the theme starting with the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. The prophet Samuel said to King Saul:
1 Sam 15:22 “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
It is all about obedience. Becoming a Christian is like being employed by a new boss. We become part of God’s workforce. Jesus said we have been chosen to bear fruit (John 15:16). The whole purpose of God’s choosing is that we might produce results. Paul says we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). We have been called to serve – to work. We have been given a mission. Are we listening to the boss and doing what He is asking us to do? It is that obedience that Jesus is looking for. Are we on the team or not?
Then Jesus told the story of the two builders. Two men each build a house. Each experiences a storm and the storms are described in exactly the same words. However, one house collapses “with a great crash’ because it has been built on sand, while the other, having been built on rock, remains upright. The man who built on rock is described as wise. The sand man Jesus calls a fool.
What is the difference between these two men? Compare vv. 24 and 26. Both heard the words of Jesus. Both were in church, listening to the preaching. Both took notes. What was the difference between them?
One put it into practice; one didn’t. The difference is obedience. We can study our Bibles daily. We can have a great knowledge of the scriptures. But are we doing what it says?
It is common to say that the storm represents the storms of life. Whose life will survive when we face trials? Who will survive turmoil? I think it is true that those who live God’s way will have a firm foundation that means they can weather storms. They will not fall. There is no better life strategy.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about primarily. All of the preceding paragraphs have been about judgement – about the eternal consequences of the choice we make
- Vv.13, 14 are about destruction or life
- V.19 talks about the bad trees being cut down and thrown into the fire. That is judgement imagery
- V.21 talks about not entering the Kingdom of Heaven
- V.22 refers to “on that day” (the day of Judgement)
- V.23 is about people being banished from Jesus’ presence
The context suggests that the primary reference here is to the day of Judgement. On that day obedience will make the difference is. God won’t ask, “What did you believe?” but “What did you do?”
Do you see how Jesus has finished this sermon? There has been a whole heap of teaching about the Kingdom of God. We know that the people were amazed and stunned by the authority with which Jesus spoke. He was not like their teachers of the law. The teachers could only quote what God had said and what previous scholars had said. Jesus said, “I tell you.” Even the prophets in the Old Testament said, ‘Thus says the Lord”. Jesus said, “I tell you.”
They could have gone away thinking, ‘We heard the most amazing things today. Jesus gave us a glimpse into God’s Kingdom and how amazing that will be. What a privilege to have been given that glimpse.”
But Jesus challenged them to do much more than marvel. The sermon ended with a question so crucial their salvation would depend on it: Will you obey it? Will you walk in the way that I have just described? Will you live by God’s Kingdom values? Do you know that you are spiritually bankrupt and will you therefore cry out for God’s mercy? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – the righteousness of the kingdom; the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees? Will you be a person of mercy and purity? Will you be a peacemaker? Will you suffer on account of me? Are you salty salt – salt that will change in the world? Will you be gentle with the people who anger you and kind to those who hate you? Will you turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Etc?” There was much more, wasn’t there? The wise man hears it and puts it into practice.
Great teaching, but everything depends on whether we do it.
How can you tell if someone is a citizen of the Kingdom of God? He/she lives in obedience to the King. A bit over a year ago, the missional community did a wee spiritual growth assessment. But we scored much higher on what we believed than on what we actually did. Much of the church is like that.
The bar is high. But Jesus is everything He describes in this sermon. He is merciful. He knows our weaknesses and He forgives and restores. He is meek. He is not rough with us. He called us to be the light of the world but He also said that He is the light of the world. It is His light that we can shine. He doesn’t get angry, or insult us, or pay back evil for evil. Our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask. God is generous. He promises to provide everything we need if we focus on His Kingdom. God answers pray. How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask? If we build our lives on a foundation of obedience, we will not be shaken. We will stand in the judgement.
God is looking for people who will hear Jesus’ words and say, “I will do them.” Dallas Willard has written: Individual Christians still hear Jesus say, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like those intelligent people who build their houses upon rock,” standing firm against every pressure of life [Matt. 7.24-25]. How life giving it would be if their understanding of the gospel allowed them simply to reply, “I will do them! I will find out how. I will devote my life to it! This is the best life strategy I ever heard of!” and then go off to their fellowship and its teachers, and into their daily life, to learn how to live in his kingdom as Jesus indicated was best. (pp.xv-xvi, The Divine Conspiracy) Is that you? What will you do with the words of the Sermon on the Mount?