Living the kind of life Christ called us to is at times complicated and at others, quite simple. At the bottom line, it involves obedience, pure and simple.
We are given a hint at this when the Master announces what he came to accomplish on a daily basis. Paraphrasing Isaiah, Jesus proclaims good news for the oppressed:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim the captives will be released and prisoners will be freed,
Now that the Lord has given us at least a vague notion of his mission here on this planet, I think it is safe to assume he expects us to follow his lead. We can find this clearly delineated in Matthew 7, especially toward the end. What follows is an article I wrote on LifeBrook several years back.
Few sections of the New Testament have received as much attention as those chapters in the Gospel of Matthew that constitute what is traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Containing what is generally considered as a synopsis of the most important teachings of the Master, much ink has been devoted to the early verses known as the Beatitudes, and considerable pages have also been written commenting on the other teachings that come later.
Perhaps the fewest words, however, have been devoted to the closing verses of the sermon. In particular I am speaking of the seventh chapter of Matthew, verses 13-28, where Jesus pretty much wraps things up by talking about how difficult these teachings really are and warning prospective followers about false teachers and even the dangers of self-deception. After prayerfully reflecting on these verses for some time now, I have arrived at the conclusion that these passages, often skimmed over in our haste to finish this section of scripture, contain critical teachings for not only prospective Christians, but also for those who think they are firmly entrenched in the faith.
Before proceeding any further, let’s take a look at what the Master says:
You can enter God’s kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.” But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.
Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching. For he taught with real authority – quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
There is enough meat on these biblical bones to occupy us for page after page of reflection. It is a mystery to me why Bible teachers, pastors, and other commentators spend such little time on the closing verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Granted, the entire section of Matthew is worthy of much reflection, but that doesn’t minimize the importance of these concluding remarks. There is one part of the passage that has particularly far-reaching ramifications, eternal ramifications in fact, and it is to those verses that we now turn.
In verses 21-23 Jesus very clearly describes those that are his true disciples. He does this right after talking about false teachers and advising that we judge a person by the fruit they produce, not by what they say or how they appear. In doing things in this order, Jesus seems to be implying that it is important to judge the veracity of a person by how they live their lives and, at the same time, to examine how we are living as well. The implication here is that it is easy to deceive ourselves in terms of whether or not we are actually true disciples that will see the Kingdom of Heaven. Again, Jesus says in verses 21-23:
Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name. But I will reply, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws. (New Living Translation.)
Jesus wasn’t addressing these words to those outside the boundaries of contemporary religion, in this case those that were outsiders and not Jews. Instead, Christ was zeroing in on the very leaders of the Hebrew faith. David Platt describes it this way:
Jesus was not speaking here to irreligious people, atheists, or agnostics. He was not speaking to pagans or heretics. He was speaking to devoutly religious people who were deluded into thinking they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven when they were actually on the broad road that leads to hell. According to Jesus, one day not just a few but many will be shocked – eternally shocked – to find that they were not in the kingdom of God after all.
Let me share with you an experience I had with this passage of scripture, an experience which was, in retrospect, an epiphany of sorts. Several years ago I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount as a part of my devotional time. At the time I was working on an extended reflective essay on the Beatitudes so this quiet time studying and praying over these scriptures had been a part of my focus for several weeks. I slowly worked my way toward the end of the sermon, hoping for some sort of new insight or fresh angle from which to approach the scriptures.
Little did I know the Holy Spirit had prepared an ambush.
It is hard to put into words exactly what happened as the words of Matthew 7: 21-23 rocketed from the page, tore through my defenses, and stopped me stone cold in my tracks. I had read these verses many times before but on that particular morning, in some vivid yet inexplicable way, it was as if I were seeing them for the first time. Moreover, I was seeing quite clearly, with frightening clarity actually, exactly what the Master was getting at here.
Basically, he was saying that on the Day of Judgment many folks who think they have their ticket punched for the Promised Land are in for a rude awakening. Cry out as they may, these unfortunate souls who thought they were in the club of the chosen, who had even worked and served in the Lord’s name, were going to be told to hit the bricks.
After my initial shock, my next response was one of great sympathy for these folks. How awful it will be for these people, many of them perhaps well-meaning Christian professionals, maybe even pastors and teachers, will have their hopes dashed on that fateful day. How awful it will be for these believers to hear the Master tell them, “Depart, I never knew you.”
Then it finally hit me like a two-by-four in the back of the head:
What if he’s talking about me?
To be continued . . . . .
(c) L.D. Turner 2018/All Rights Reserved