Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:21–23

Matthew 7:21–23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Last-minute protests

One of the biggest problems that employers face at this time is résumé inflation. Take George O’Leary for example. He was hired to be Notre Dame’s football coach, but he was dismissed twelve days later when officials discovered his résumé contained false claims about a certain college degree and about having played college football.

Nobody will enter the kingdom of heaven with an inflated résumé. But many will try.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R.T. France’s idea that the people Jesus describes here are people who consider themselves insiders (true disciples) but who are not. This is a troubling category for some Christians to think about, so we will dive right in.

The phrase “on that day” (7:22) places this outcry “’Lord, Lord’” (7:21) on the day of judgment, which is part of the longer period known as the Day of the Lord (see Joel 1:15; Isa. 10:20; Zech. 12–14).

R.T. France explains that Jesus “now presents himself as the one who decides who does and does not enter the kingdom of heaven, and even more remarkably the basis for that entry is people’s relationship with him, whether or not he ‘knew them.’”[1] This is a powerful affirmation of the idea that Christianity is about a personal relationship to Jesus rather than belonging to a church or even having been baptized.

As Christians we are accustomed to think of Jesus as Lord. But in the ears of those who first heard Jesus say these words, learning that on the day of judgment many would “say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’” (7:22) would have been a shocking claim of authority and power. Jesus asserts that he not only has the authority to admit people into the kingdom of heaven, but also the authority to send others “away from me” (7:23). Life in the kingdom will be life with Jesus; those excluded from him from that assembly of lawbreakers we call hell.

Jesus is not saying that there is anything wrong with prophesying, casting out evil spirits, or performing miracles in his name (7:22). He is saying that none of those activities can replace knowing him and being known by him.

It is important to make a stronger connection between having a relationship to Jesus and doing “the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21). In the Gospel of John, Jesus said: “The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21).

Perhaps it is helpful to say that having a relationship with Jesus does not mean it is an equal relationship. The fact that he is both Lord and God to us means that he has legitimate expectations of us that do not conflict with the fact that he loves us. His love for us is not based on our works, but our love for him is expressed, in part, by our works.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus can rest confidently in his words: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

Safety for those who know Jesus

Jesus’ words were not designed to dishearten those who love him. They were meant as a warning to the sort of fast-talking con artists who make their way through life manipulating others. That will not work when Jesus judges all people.

To his own, Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.” (John 10:27–28).

Jesus gave his life to make a way to include you in the kingdom, not exclude you. Put your faith in him and rest in his hand.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 294.

 

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!