In Matthew 7:21-29, Jesus finishes giving the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus finishes with two sections of teaching and then Matthew makes a closing statement. In each of the last two sections of the sermon Jesus puts into sharp focus the implications of what he’s been teaching so far in the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve talked about it several times in here how Jesus is really driving home that what really matters to God is that you have a new heart. And if you have this new heart, you will want to react to God’s instructions in the scriptures in the way Jesus describes in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
Now I don’t know how you feel about verses 21-23, but I’ll tell you, it frightens me in a way. You know, I’ve heard a lot of harsh teaching on this passage. I’ve heard a pastor who’s held in high regard by some teach this passage to his congregation, saying, “This means that many of you will say ‘Lord Lord’ on the last day, but Jesus will say to you, ‘I don’t know you.’” This pastor preached this to his congregation. There is a way to teach and to understand this passage that will crush people with sensitive consciences. It will break bruised reeds and put out smoldering wicks.
So because of some harsh teaching, I reacted negatively, and spent some time ignoring the passage altogether. But it’s right here in the Lord’s sermon, and we do need to pay attention to what it tells us. But I think that in the context of this whole sermon, you can tell what Jesus is doing here.
Remember what Jesus says in Chapter 5:17-20. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus teaches something about a Christian’s righteousness that is different from the conventional understanding of righteousness that was popular among religious conservatives of Jesus’s day. Jesus says, “I am not destroying the Law, I’m fulfilling it.” And he says, “Unless your righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, you will not see the kingdom.”
From that point on, Jesus shows that the reality of what God wants from us—the reality of the Law—is so much deeper than the outward actions required by the Law. So there is a way that you can avoid murdering people, all the while crushing them over and over again in our hearts. And there is a way that we can participate outwardly in all the right spiritual disciplines, but internally, we love the praise of others more than we love God.
So when we get to our passage in 7:21, we see men and women who have lived this way. They come to the judgment of the last day and they try to justify themselves before the Lord by laying out all of the holy things that they’ve done for him. Jesus responds to this by saying, “Come on, man. You’ve missed the point.” It’s not about the works you do, if you don't have a new heart. If you do mighty works in Jesus’s name, but you don’t have a new heart, then you’re doing exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. And Jesus calls them hypocrites.
Then again in verses 24-27, Jesus makes the point again. If you hear Jesus’s words and do them, that is, if you recognize your need for a new heart and keep on relying on him to give you one, then you will be like the wise man who builds his house on a rock. The house stands up through the storm. But if you don’t do what he says, that is, if you think that Jesus’s point is that you need to keep on trying harder, working harder, then your house is built on sand. It will fall down as soon as the wind blows.
You don’t have to work harder and harder. To get more righteousness than the Pharisees all you need is to recognize that there is no help for you apart from Jesus Christ. And if you call out to him for help, he is near to you. He is the one who promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Why is it easy? Why is it light? Because through Jesus’s work on the cross, the Father forgives our sins and the Holy Spirit gives us new hearts.
And after he said these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching. He was teaching as one who has authority, unlike their scribes. Jesus was demonstrating who he was. He was teaching the gospel.
It is crucial that you believe this. We’re all probably better at sinning than we give ourselves credit for. We can get pretty good at building systems for ourselves where we do better and try harder, and it looks a lot like righteousness. But if we do this, then Jesus says we’re deceiving ourselves. And if we tell the judge of the universe that we’ve done many mighty works in his name, and that’s what we’re banking on, then we’ve missed it. But if we repent of our sins and our answer to Jesus is, “I have no other hope than your work on my behalf,” then we’ve understood Jesus’s point. If you believe this, then your house will stand through the storm. If you believe this, you will not be cast out on the last day.
Date: 29 September 2011
Text: Matthew 7:21-29
Title: Strong Foundations
Location: Dillard Chapel at Southern Seminary
Event: Thursday Evening Prayer