Matthew 7:21-23 (21)
If these words, which we are now to consider, had been said by anyone else we would have disputed with them strongly, but they were said by Jesus and so, even though they are uncomfortable, we must look at them. We must wrestle with them to find out why Jesus would turn away those who seemingly are saying and doing all the right things. This is part of the conclusion, linked with: two gates to two differing paths; two trees bearing differing fruit and two builders building on two different foundations. Here we have two professions, one made by those seeking entry into the kingdom and the other by the king of the kingdom. Jesus has just warned us to beware of false prophets who can be recognized by their fruit.
We all love a bargain and our search for them has caused unscrupulous traders to imitate ‘designer’ goods and put false labels on them. ‘Caveat emptor’ (Latin for ‘let the buyer beware’) should be the rule when we buy anything. ‘But what about the weightier things of life–the principles we believe in, the teachers we listen to, the standards we follow, and the convictions we hold? Do we run these through the same kind of testing? Do we care as much about our Christianity as we do about our cauliflower?’ (J Stewart) The labels might fool us but they do not fool our king!
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (7:21)
The first thing we notice is that the speaker recognizes who Jesus is. These are not heretics, false prophets or part of the ‘wacky brigade’! In fact, we could say that they are orthodox in their theology. The use of the phrase ‘Lord, Lord,’ show that they know who Jesus is. They know about: His pre-earthly existence; His incarnation; His life and ministry; His death, resurrection and glorification; and His promised return. They can say, with Nicodemus, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ (John 3:2) They might even be ministers or preachers or hold some office within the church. I remember my friend Ian, before he became a Christian, being astounded when I said to him that not all ministers are ‘born again’. ‘You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe that and tremble’, (Jam 2:19) is how James describes them. They have done well so far but have not gone far enough. Many make a declaration of faith but show no evidence in their lives that Jesus is Lord and when challenged to examine their standing before the Lord they will quote for example ‘If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Rom 10:9) to ‘prove’ they are saved. Profession is easy, making it a reality often means a change that many are unwilling to make.
When Jesus said, ‘this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes on Him should have everlasting life,’ (John 6:40) He was talking not just about a profession, but one evidenced by action, a changed life, a changed walk and a changed witness. Calling Jesus Lord will not save unless it is accompanied by the action of allowing Him to BE Lord and that means of everything! ‘Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what I tell you?’ (Luke 6:46) This first group knew all the right words but they were empty words and the king saw right through them.
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’” (7:22)
Notice: ‘He does not say ‘an odd person here and there’, but ‘many’ self-deception is a danger to the ‘many’, and His warnings are frequent’. (D M Lloyd-Jones)
This group not only says all the right things they have actions to accompany their words. The Pharisees could say all the right words and seemingly perform all the right actions but Jesus said to them! ‘How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you give a tenth of your mint, dill, and cummin, but have neglected the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the things you should have practiced, without neglecting the others. You blind guides!’ (Matt 23:23-24) ‘Our King receives not into his kingdom those whose religion lies in words and ceremonies; but only those whose lives display the obedience of true discipleship’. (C H Spurgeon)
This is not an isolated incident and it should concern us all that Jesus is telling us that there are ‘many’ within the church who, despite their profession and their works, are nor part of the kingdom. We all know ‘sign’ chasers. They judge a ministry by its accompanying miracles and assume it to be spiritual, from God. Jesus warns that not everything is what it seems. ‘For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.’ (Matt 24:24) We all get excited when we hear prophecy, see deliverance or other miraculous signs and so did Jesus disciples. He sent them, including Judas, out to proclaim the kingdom of God and they came back excited about what had happened but Jesus stopped them in their tracks. ‘Stop rejoicing because the spirits are submitting to you. Rather, rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10:20)
We can be easily confused if we take this passage as the yardstick on the rights or wrongs of signs and wonders. This is not Jesus intention. This sermon is about the kingdom and in His conclusion Jesus wants us to be certain of the grounds of entry into the kingdom.
At the start of this passage I said that it is about two professions: one by us, the other by Jesus but only one of them has any value for entry into the kingdom as this next verse shows us.
“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (7:23)
How often have we heard the words, ‘I have always done my best and tried never to do anyone any harm.’ used as the basis of a future hope. We respond, ‘That is salvation by works,’ but what about ourselves? Surely being a church member, proclaiming Christ and doing works in his name must have some merit? Not a bit of it! We are saved by grace. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ (Eph 2:8-9) ‘Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace’. (M Henry)
It will be no good on the Day of Judgement to tell Christ, for He is the one before whom we all must answer, all the things we knew about Him and all that we did in his name in the hope that that will be sufficient if he says ‘I never knew you.’ ‘The most important thing for all of us is not to be interested primarily in our activities or in results, but in our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ’. (D M Lloyd-Jones) To seek to enter the kingdom on the merit of our profession or works is trying to enter by the broad way, but that only leads to destruction.
I have included a poem by John Newton because, although it is old, I think it shows the folly of putting our trust in our words or works.
‘What think ye of Christ?’ is the test to try both your state and your scheme.
You cannot be right in the rest unless you think rightly of Him.
As Jesus appears in your view, as He is beloved or not–
So God is disposed toward you and mercy or wrath is your lot.
Some take Him a creature to be, a man, or an angel at most;
But they have not feelings like me, nor know themselves helpless and lost.
So guilty, so helpless am I, I durst not confide in His blood,
Nor on His protection rely unless I were sure He is God.
Some call Him a Saviour in word but mix their own works with His plan,
And hope He His help will afford when they have done all that they can.
If doings prove rather too light, (A little, they own, they may fail)
They purpose to make up full weight by casting His name on the scale.
Some style Him ‘the Pearl of great price’ and say, ‘He`s the fountain of joys,’
Yet feed upon folly and vice and cleave to the world and its toys.
Like Judas, the Saviour they kiss and, while they salute Him, betray.
Of what will profession like this avail in His terrible day?
If asked what of Jesus I think, though still my best thoughts are but poor,
I say, ‘He`s my meat and my drink, my life and my strength and my store.
My shepherd, my trust and my Friend, my Saviour from sin and from thrall,
My hope from beginning to end, my Portion, my Lord and my all.’
Let our profession be that we are totally without merit and deserve nothing but his wrath but our hope is in Christ alone, on the merit of His sacrifice in our place. Then the King will say ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ (Matt 25:34)