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Sermon on the Mount

Lord, Lord

Matthew 7:21-29

Lesson audio

We come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. If the Christian life is, as we have suggested, a pilgrimage then it must have a destination. This is our Lord’s final warning concerning the journey — and how to get to the real destination.

Not Everyone

Matthew 7:21-23 NASB  "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  (22)  "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'  (23)  "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

 

False Signs

One of the characteristic logical errors common to the scientific age runs something like this:

·         If Joe is a major league baseball player, then he will have a baseball bat.

·         Joe has a baseball bat.

·         Therefore, Joe is a major league baseball player.

All you need is one Little League baseball player with a bat to prove that this is false. But the same type of logic can be applied to religion, and it seems much more acceptable there. Let’s try the same logic again:

·         If Fred is divinely inspired, then he will be able to work miracles.

·         Fred is able to work miracles.

·         Therefore, Fred is divinely inspired.

Doesn’t that second set of logic seem so much more appealing? But it is exactly the same logic, and it is every bit as false. Our Lord warns us here that we will see many who prophesy in his name, cast out demons in his name and even perform miracles in his name — and are headed straight to hell. This, of course, brings up the question: why?

Christ does not definitely tells us in this instance just why this would be so, but I think there is a relatively simple explanation. Permit me an example. I am a teacher of the gospel; I teach a relatively small class. I believe I could successfully defend myself against the charge of having done great things for Christ; indeed, I would argue that I should be content with doing small things for Christ. That’s what he’s called me to do. This small class, however, is part of a very large church — and the preacher in the church has every reason to feel pleased with his accomplishments, which are far greater than mine. But because his accomplishments are so much greater, the temptations that come with them are greater too. The temptation is to think and act as if you believed that “God owes me.” In other words, I’ve done such wonderful things that surely God recognizes that he is in my debt. I have a lot of favors with God that I can call in any time I want.

This, of course, is pride — and a most stubborn and enduring pride it is. (The reader will note that I am not accusing our preacher of this.) Great accomplishments bring the temptation of great pride. Such pride is the sin of Satan himself, and a ticket to suffering at the least and hell and damnation at the end. This is so serious a consequence that our Lord warns against it in the most serious way.

There is a minor temptation in here for the humble Christian. We can take this to an extreme and decide that anyone with such achievements must, therefore, be going to hell. This is just as much a logical fallacy; our Lord warns against it in the parable of the wheat and the weeds.[1]

I Never Knew You

We may now take a look at Christ’s reaction to such people. He tells them that he never knew them. The word in the Greek implies something more than a casual acquaintance; we could not safely conclude that Christ had no knowledge of their existence, for example. The meaning is fairly clear; there is no personal relationship here. That is a devastating thought, especially for someone who thinks that he’s achieved greatness in the kingdom of God. So for anyone who has achieved anything in the kingdom of God the question, “how would I know” is something which must be addressed.

Christ tells us. It is the practice of lawlessness. We may take a look at this in a little bit more detail:

·         Lawlessness we understand – it is the breaking of clearly understood code. Sin is lawlessness.

·         The key word is “practice.” This is not a demand that you are perfect; it’s a demand that you do not continuously practice lawlessness.

·         Why is this important? Because sin, in the presence of God, is not permissible. For this we have forgiveness — but if you continue to practice it without seeking forgiveness, then what?

There is another trap in here. There are those who think that God will forgive, and therefore they can do as they please. This wouldn’t work with your mother; what makes you think it will work with God?

Christ’s reaction to all this? He throws you out. There are several instances where he repeats this theme in the Scripture; perhaps he meant for us to understand it clearly and definitely. There will come a time where the habitual sinner will be removed from the presence of God to spend eternity in hell. It’s that serious.

Who Does the Will

At this point things don’t sound so good for the average Christian, do they? But if you look back up at the Scripture, you will see that those who do the will of the Father are the ones who get into heaven. So we might well ask, just what is the will of the Father?

·         One answer is that we are to behold Christ, and believe in him.[2] We are assured that the result is eternal life and the resurrection to come.

·         We are also taught that the will of God is to know Christ, for this implies that you know the Father.[3]

·         Indeed, Christ declares that those who do the will of the father are in effect his brothers and sisters. [4]

Hear and Act

Matthew 7:24-27 NASB  "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  (25)  "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  (26)  "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  (27)  "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall."

 

To Hear

If you’d like to see some interesting results on your computerized Bible search, look up the phrase, “hear the word of the Lord.” Especially in the Old Testament you will find that this is almost exclusively reserved for the prophets. It is a command, and a highly imperative one.

·         There’s a tremendous power in this command; God tells the prophet Ezekiel that he is to prophesied to the dry bones in the valley and tell them that they are to hear the word of the Lord.[5]

·         Indeed, the power of God seems to be wrapped up in the word of God. It is by his word that he created the universe, and such power is still his.

·         So powerful is his word that the apostle John tells us that Christ is the incarnate Word of God.[6]

So one might think that was such power behind the command, everyone would listen. We obviously know that is not the case. But we should note that the command in question is given to “everyone.” It is personal; it does not seem to have exceptions. You have been warned.

So why is it was such a warning that we don’t have practically everyone in church on Sunday morning? Our Lord explained this in the parable of the soils[7]. The word gets out to everyone — at least in our society — but some of us have it snatched away from us; some of us are such shallow people that it never really takes root; and others have the crowded out by the cares of this world. This is yet another warning that it could happen to us.

To Act

Okay, you’re going to hear the word if you live in America, at least. The question is, what you going to do about it?

Curiously, Christ seems to imply here that you’re going to have trials and tribulations whether you act upon his word or not. Trials and tribulations are just part of life; the results of those trials and tribulations depend upon the preparations you make. So we can safely conclude that the idea that a Christian never has any problems belongs to somebody’s book of fairy tales.

So, how exactly does a wise man prepare for such trials and tribulations? Here’s what’s Solomon has to say:

Proverbs 14:16 NASB  A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless.

 

It might seem that such advice is rather generic; but, after all, Christ talks about the foundation — not the details of the walls and the windows. The key point is to do this before the trials and tribulations hit; which, since you have no idea when they’re coming, means you should do this first thing. Get the foundation right, get it right quickly and work from there. Just don’t put it off.

To Not Act

Can we begin with an obvious point? The foolish man’s house looks pretty much like the wise man’s house. The difference is in the foundation. This is a really good reason not to judge your fellow Christians. You don’t know how they laid the foundation. All you can see are the walls and the windows. The warning is personal; you are to take care of your own foundation, not worry about somebody else’s. That applies unless you happen to be a teacher, and the passage you’re teaching on this week happens to be in Matthew chapter 7. It is then the teacher’s business to warn you — to take it personally.

So what happens if you don’t like the correct foundation? Note that the trials and tribulations of such a person are the same as for those who lay the foundation carefully. In other words, you can’t tell who the real Christian is from the fake one just by the trials and tribulations they’re going through. That cuts both ways. It means first that if you don’t lay the foundation correctly you’re going to encounter trials and tribulations that will sweep you away. But it also means to your fellow Christians that they can’t tell what kind of Christian you are just from the trials and tribulations themselves. Job has quite a bit to say on the subject; you will recall that his three friends were convinced that he was some sort of gigantic secret sinner because of all the trials and tribulations he had. The argument was that God must be punishing them for something, and since the punishment was severe, it must be something big. Neither Job nor they were ever told the real reason; nor does he tell us about our sufferings.

What we are to observe is this: the collapse is catastrophic. May I give you a parallel, please? Your teacher lives in Southern California; those of you who are not familiar with the area might conclude that flood insurance is something which would be completely useless. After all, you guys live in the middle of the desert, right?

So did Noah, my friends. The existence of the desert flash flood, and more commonly the swift flow of water which is not held back by the light vegetation of the California hills can cause quite a flood. So just because the place looks like it would never have a flood doesn’t mean you are safe. It’s like Solomon says: time and chance happen to all[8].

Authority of Christ

Matthew 7:28-29 NASB  When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching;  (29)  for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

 

Reaction: Then

It is a truism that we don’t understand people of other places and times. Such people made differing assumptions about the universe around them. In this time, the people had advantage over those of us who live in these modern days. They clearly understood the awe that was due to Almighty God. It was not just the common people who understood this, but the scribes and the elders of the nation of Israel. There was a clear distinction between the authority of a scribe, which we might call expert authority, and the authority of God, which is intrinsic.

The priests and elders understood this, and therefore they had a logical question for Jesus concerning the authority with which he taught. Here’s the story.

Matthew 21:23-27 NASB  When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?"  (24)  Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  (25)  "The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?" And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?'  (26)  "But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet."  (27)  And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

 

This incident clearly highlights the question of authority; it also shows us that the people judge such authority by its consistency with God. The common man had no great theological prowess, but he understood a prophet when he heard one. And John the Baptist was one that he heard. The method of judgment was his consistency with the message of God — John the Baptist sounds just like one of the Old Testament prophets. He behaved like one too. So the people believed he was one. This explains why the common person heard Jesus gladly; his message was the good news of God.

It is therefore important to us to pay attention to Christ’s claim of authority. Either his claim to authority is false, or it is true. If he claims to have authority on the basis of God, then what ever he claims must either be completely true or completely false. He’s a fraud, a lunatic or the son of God. If you believe that he is the son of God, then you must accept his claim to authority. So, just what is his claim to authority?

Matthew 28:18 NASB  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

 

If this is true, then we should accept his warnings in this passage (and others) as being of primary importance.

Reaction: Now

When you show this to a modern citizen of the United States, the usual reaction is, “you can’t really mean that.” But as we have just shown, the logical options don’t include any middle ground. Why is it, then, that the modern citizen thinks that he can find a more reasonable alternative?

First, it is because of the impact of the philosophy of Postmodernism. One of the core beliefs of this philosophy is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. It’s the primary logical fallacy of the philosophy: “it is absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth.” This philosophy is clearly contradictory to classic Christianity, was Lord claims to be the “way, the truth and the life.”

It’s worth asking how this philosophy became so widely accepted. One reason for it is the desire for a standard of proof which conforms to the modern God, science. If you examine the logic, it seems absurd. But if you don’t examine the logic, it sounds very nice to say that everything which is true must be capable of being proven scientifically. Let’s think about that: can you scientifically prove that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo? You can prove it historically; but you can’t prove it scientifically. The standards of scientific proof are so high that most of history simply cannot be proven to such standards. That’s not a criticism of history; it’s a criticism of applying the wrong logical standards of proof to a particular problem.

A similar example might be made with regard to the question of trust. It’s obvious that a successful marriage is built upon mutual trust. Can you in fact expect to verify that trust to scientific standards? Well, you could hire a detective to follow your wife around all the time to see if she is unfaithful to you. If you did that, however, you would destroy the trust she has in you. The very act of determining whether or not she is trustworthy kills the trust so necessary for the marriage. You cannot scientifically prove that your wife is faithful to you — and you’d be an idiot to try.

The average denizen of our century therefore rejects the phrase, “because God said so.” That’s never been a standard for nonbelievers; it’s now ceasing to be a standard for believers. Think about the sermons you’ve heard recently, considering marriage as an example. How often has the preacher referred to someone psychological study as being a good reason for you to take (or not take) some particular course of action? As a modern citizen, you’re not about to believe the authority of the Scriptures. You want your truth to come out of pop psychology. And pop psychology says nothing about the judgment to come. Pop psychology says everything is relative; your problem isn’t that you are sinful; it’s that you feel guilty.

Which Way?

It appears that you have three choices.

·         You can do things in the way of the world, the way the Christ described as being broad and well-traveled. For the Christian, this is been a trap that is been known for centuries and we are often warned against it.

·         There is a more insidious route. We might call this the “way of the easy church.” It involves what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. We offer God’s forgiveness without repentance; we don’t demand that you behaved righteously. As long as you’re better than somebody else, as long as you done your little bit, you are happy with conversion and no results. This does make people feel good — and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. As far as I can tell, its only drawback is that it doesn’t work.

·         Then there is the narrow way — a pilgrimage, not a voyage on a cruise ship. The world tells you to be comfortable where you are; the easy church tells you that you’re on a spiritual journey, just like being on a cruise. Christ tells you that the way is narrow and the gate small.

Aim carefully.



[1] Matthew 13:24-30.

[2] John 6:37-40

[3] John 14:6-7

[4] Matthew 12:46-50

[5] Ezekiel 37:4

[6] John 1:1-5

[7] Mark 4:14-20

[8] Ecclesiastes 9:11

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