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I Never Knew You

November 20 2022

Book: Matthew

Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29

We have spent the past three months studying the Sermon on the Mount and this morning we come to the end of the greatest sermon ever preached. But it does not end the way we might expect.

Most famous preachers today end their sermons with an emotional story or some helpful tips on living a better life. But Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a very serious challenge.

Let’s begin reading Matthew 7 in verse 21.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Like I said, this is not the ending we would expect. Remember, Jesus began the sermon with these words:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

But He ends the sermon with harsh reality – that’s not most people. Most people are on a wide road to destruction. Most people will be swept away with the wicked because they built their house on the sand. Many of the people who name and claim Jesus on the last day will be called “workers of lawlessness”.

This is not a “chicken soup for the soul” kind of ending. Instead, it is a clear and powerful call to repentance.

Let’s break it down. Look again at verse 21.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Notice two things here. First, Jesus does not dispute the claims of the people in verse 22. They claim to prophesy. They claim to cast out demons. They claim to do many mighty works in His name. And Jesus does not dispute those claims. He doesn’t call them liars. Instead, Jesus says, “I never knew you.”

In other words, it is possible to do even mighty works in the name of Jesus and not belong to Jesus.

Second, Jesus clearly says that those who will enter heaven are those who do the will of my Father. Jesus has not used that phrase in the sermon until now. It would be easy for us to confuse this for good works, but verse 22 suggests that is not what Jesus has in mind.

To help us understand this phrase, I want to look two other places. One is found later in Matthew. The other is found in John 6.

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50

Jesus said that to draw a sharp line between his earthly biological family and his spiritual family. Now look at John 6:40 –

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Now put it all together. What does it mean to do the will of the Father? It means looking to Jesus in faith and being united to Him in His death and resurrection.

Psalm 2:12 –

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

We very easily confuse the issue here. Our tendency is to come to Jesus with proof of our works, but Jesus is far more concerned with proof of our faith. Do we know Him? Do we trust Him? Union with Christ will produce good works, but our works are not the foundation.

This is exactly what Jesus means when He uses that final illustration about the sand and the rock. He’s not encouraging us to build our house on any rock. He uses the definite article in Greek. Is your house built on “ton petron”? Is it built on THE rock? Psalm 18:

1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.

2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Notice the personal pronouns David attaches to God. He is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

David is in no danger of being cast out on the last day. He knows where His security rests. Not in David – but in God.

If you wanted to read the Sermon on the Mount with a self-righteous lens, you could do that. Jesus gives a lot of commands and if you want to walk away from the sermon feeling good about yourself and judging others by a new standard, you could try to do that. But you would be building your house on the sand.

Truthfully, my tendency and the tendency of every preacher is to preach law instead of grace. I’d rather preach it and you’d rather hear it. We like the concept of grace, but in practice it makes us very uncomfortable.

A friend of mine posted this quote by Martin Luther. I want to share it with you, because I think it provides a much better lens for looking at the Sermon on the Mount:

“As long as a person thinks he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises in Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.

This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff.” – Martin Luther

This is the right way to think about the high standard that Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a big axe, meant to cut down the monster of our own self-righteousness.

The sermon is not a call to holiness by trying harder. It is a call to holy living by grace through faith in Jesus.

The Gospels tell us that two men were crucified with Jesus, one on the right and one on the left. Both of the men were thieves and Matthew tells us that both men mocked Jesus along with the crowd. But Luke tells us that one of those men had a change of heart, moments before Jesus died.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

One of my favorite living preachers is Alistair Begg and I love the way he tells the story here, so I’m borrowing from him almost word for word, because it is amazing, and some of you may have seen the clip of this sermon.

He uses the old question, “If you were to die tonight and God asks you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?

If you answer that question in the first person, you’ve already gone wrong. “Because I…” “Because I believed. Because I have faith. Because I did this. Because I did that. Because I tried. Because I’m a good person.” No…

The only right answer is in the third person: “Because He…” “Because He…”

Then he says, think about the thief on the cross. This guy was mocking Jesus with everyone else. He’d never been to church. He’d never been to a Bible study. He’d never been baptized. And yet— He made it! How?!

Begg says imagine the exchange between the thief and the angel at the gates of heaven.

The angel says “What are you doing here?”

And the thief says “Well, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” says the angel.

“Well, because I don’t know.” Says the thief.

And the angel says, “Excuse me. Let me get my supervisor.”

They go get the supervisor angel and he says, “We have a few questions for you. First of all, do you understand the doctrine of justification by faith?”

The thief says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.” “What about the doctrine of Scripture?” “Nope.” Finally, in frustration, the angel asks, “On what basis are you here?”

And he said, “The man on the middle cross said I can come.”

And that is the only answer. And if I don’t preach that to myself all day and every day, then I will find myself beginning to trust myself, trust my experience, which is part of my sinfulness as a human being. That’s the shifting sand – believing that my salvation is dependent on me.

And as soon as you go there, it will lead you either to despair or arrogance. “I can’t do this.” Or, “I can do this.” And neither is entirely correct. Instead, the man on the middle cross bids you to come.