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 resume 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 resume contained false claims about a certain college degree and about having played college football.

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

As we begin this section, keep in mind R. T. Frances 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 a person’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, Plano, Texas. 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.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:15-20

Matthew 7:15-20

Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
(NET Bible)

Trusted liars

Many members of the Palm Beach Country Club had to lobby to get Bernard Madoff to take their money for investment. His marketing strategy was to play hard to get. That worked really well along with the bogus profit statements received by those members he had already taken as clients.

Unfortunately, the only information the clients saw was paper reports from Madoff. They never tried to inspect their own stock certificates or visit the accounting office. Since there were no real stock purchases, there were no stock certificates and no need for an accounting office!

A man selling false profits is one thing, but false claims about knowing God are even worse.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R.T. Frances insight that these false prophets (7:15) are outsiders (i.e. unbelievers) pretending to be insiders. Once again, Jesus gives just one command —watch out for false prophets (7:15a) — followed by an explanation (7:15b-20).

Since prophets are not part of our landscape, the idea of false prophets is a bit elusive. In Matthews Gospel (24:11 and 24:24), false prophets mislead or deceive even true disciples. Luke 6:26 tells us that false prophets are likely to be widely praised. Peter said the false prophets would introduce destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1).

From these references, it seems reasonable to assume that false prophets taught misleading theology, heresies, and even denied important things about Jesus. John heard Jesus words, and he warned us to test for false prophets by careful examination (1 John 4:1).

Using metaphorical language, Jesus warns that the false prophets are actually predators (voracious wolves, 7:15) disguised as prey (sheep). Then he offers a way to detect these pretenders. In doing so, Jesus switches metaphors to that of fruit-bearing plants and their fruit.

R.T. France tells us that the basic principle of the fruits-test is that trees produce only the kind of fruit which reflects their basic character, good or bad[1] (7:17-18). R.T. France[2] adds that the fruit Jesus wants is the life and loyalty that God expects of his people; this is the righteousness Jesus has been describing, even though the word is not used.

Evaluating fruitfulness requires the restrained but necessary judgment that Jesus described in 7:1-6. Jesus used this standard of fruitfulness when he condemned the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-36. There Jesus exhorts the people to obey what the Pharisees and scribes taught from Moses — meaning the Law — but not to imitate them because they did not practice what they taught (23:3)!

What happens to the trees that do not produce good fruit? Jesus says they are thrown into the fire (7:19). That is the ultimate fate of outsiders pretending to be insiders.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will not fail the test of fruitfulness. After explaining how God saved us by his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7), Paul explains that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand that we may do them (Eph. 2:10). The Holy Spirit enables us to do all that God wants.

The real thing

The truth is that over a period of time it is not that difficult to see the Holy Spirit at work in someones life. You will see or learn about acts of kindness, sacrificial service, and devotion to building up the church. Words are harder to weigh than deeds, but we always have the Bible to provide the truth against which teaching can be tested.

Remember Jesus warning! Not all allegedly-Christian teaching is true to Gods Word, even when you see it on the Internet, hear it on the radio or read it in a book. To evaluate a prophet, you need to see their life.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 290.

[2] France, Matthew, 291.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:13-14

Matthew 7:13-14

Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
(NET Bible)

The lure of the easy life

When I was in school, some people liked the easy way, so they cheated. Can you guess how much they learned? Jesus offers to all a choice of the easy way or the hard. What will each of us choose, and why?

Jesus concluded his description of kingdom-discipleship with the Golden Rule (7:12). What follows, starting in Matt. 7:13-14, is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. The ending falls into four sections skillfully described by R.T. France, who uses the idea that insiders are believers and outsiders are not:

The resultant four sections therefore press increasingly closer to home: the first is a simple contrast between saved and lost [7:13-14], the second concerns outsiders who merely pretend to be insiders [7:15-20], the third looks at those who think they are insiders but are not [7:21-23], and the fourth draws a line within the group of insiders (who hear Jesus words) between those who respond and those who do not [7:24-27].[1]

According to this analysis, todays passage is the first scene and presents a simple contrast between the saved and the lost. Sadly, Jesus says the saved are few and the lost are many. On the basis of such verses, some interpreters teach that only a few members of humanity throughout the ages will end up in heaven. That assumption may be true, or it may not be. In my opinion, Jesus was speaking of his own time about the Jewish nation.

Craig Keener[2] points out that most first-century Jews thought they were saved by the simple fact that they descended from Abraham, but Jesus was letting them know that their assumption was flatly wrong! Those who actually listened to Jesus words would have assumed that the few (7:14) and the many (7:13) were references to the Jewish people of that time. Jesus gave them no reason to think otherwise.

Simple observation will show you that Jesus gives only one command in these verses: Enter through the narrow gate (7:13a). All the rest of the material (7:13b14) explains why. When you think about it, you will realize that Jesus is speaking to people who have each trekked to the countryside of Galilee to find him. They have already taken trouble to hear him, and now he challenges them to prepare for even more. Will they take the narrow gate and the difficult road with Jesus, or will they return to the easier path, the unrestricted gate used by the many?

Presumably, those taking the wide, easy road do not know where it leads. Jesus clearly states that it leads to destruction (7:13). That is a metaphorical description of Gods eternal condemnation. On the other hand, the narrow gate leads to a narrow, constricted road (7:14), making it less popular and certainly filled with danger. But the few who find the narrow road are rewarded by arriving at life (7:14).

Jesus understands the struggles faced by the faithful, and he does not leave them to face danger alone. That God approves of the faithful few is plain, because they are rewarded with eternal life!

Never forget that Jesus understands the hardship of the difficult road. The author of Hebrews tells us this about Jesus: Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8). Jesus is our gracious and tested high priest. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help. (Heb. 4:15-16).

The harder life

Certainly it is easy to think that our contemporary society satisfies the same description Jesus gave to the first-century Jews; many are rejecting the narrow road, if they even think about it at all.

Yet Tim Keller, a well-known thinker and pastor, has established a huge evangelical church in Manhattan. People are still seeking Jesus! Keller says: We have neither the Western Christendom of the past nor the secular, religionless society that was predicted for the future.[3]

The narrow gate still stands, and the difficult road remains open for those following Jesus. The reward of living with God is worth the struggle.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 286-287.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 250.

[3] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) xv.