Urgent, Perplexing Words of Jesus

No entryThe mayor announces a picnic for all current and retired employees of the town. It’s a beautiful day; you know several of your friends are going to be there; there will be free food. You turn up at the entrance to the park. Why not? You may not have been on the payroll but you say to yourself, I’ve been a good citizen; I’ll just drop in.

From a distance you can see tables groaning with food of every kind. People you know are chatting under the trees, their children running about. Excitement is in the air.

The Mayor himself is greeting workers as they enter the park. But when your turn comes he looks at you blankly and says, “I don’t know you; never heard of you; there’s no place here for you.”

Imagine your shock. No matter how you try you can’t reverse his position. You assumed too much in hoping to be welcomed without proper credentials.

The consequences would be serious. But they would be immeasurably more serious for the persons in a story Jesus told about the entrance into the kingdom of heaven which only true believers will gain at the end of the age. (Matthew 7:21–23)

In the story some persons approach the entrance to the kingdom where the king himself stands; they expect to be welcomed. They believe they have every right to enter; they’ve been good people. But the king says, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!”

But they stand and plead: “Did we not prophesy in your name?” They will insist they had preached real gospel sermons on his behalf.

Moreover, they will argue they had even cast out demons in his name, and anointed the sick and comforted the grieving. Casting out demons takes spiritual energy and courage.

Yet, according to Jesus’ story, even such daring labor, done in Jesus’ name, will not insure their entrance into the kingdom of heaven because something fundamental is lacking.

Jesus’ story is not for true believers who have a heartfelt love for the Lord, whose inward devotion to him, however gentle, is true blue. Their entrance is assured.

Rather, in these words Jesus makes his point: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” ( Matthew 7:21).

They had even done spectacular things in the open but they had not themselves been obedient to his will at the level of the heart. Their ‘service’ had likely been about some measure of personal gain — friendships, family approval, money, fame — more than about pleasing the Lord.

Heart-grounded obedience is the issue. To his true followers, those who obey him, Jesus promises welcome and a nurturing relationship with him: “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). As well, “I will receive you unto myself”.

What is lacking for these supplicants pleading for entrance is not merely a strong religious impulse. As Jesus’ story shows, they had lots of that. And they had an abundance of spirituality too. What they lacked was obedient hearts toward him that undergirded all their public professions.

It’s an urgent, perplexing word Jesus speaks through this story. To be turned aside from a community picnic would be bad enough. But to be denied entrance into the kingdom event of the ages because all our religiosity lacks the authentic note of heartfelt obedience to the gospel — that would be an irreversible disaster. That’s why our Lord tells the story so urgently.

And that is why the Scriptures repeatedly challenge us at this deepest level of our heart’s affections. In the word “Repent” they call us to a radical turnaround to correct our perilous journey. And that is why they invite us to a life of faith — a living faith in Jesus Christ.

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Photo credit: Elliot Brown (via flickr.com)


3 thoughts on “Urgent, Perplexing Words of Jesus

  1. I understand, pastor Don, that the tense of the Greek verb used in that passage indicates “I never at any time knew you.” I presume that it is the aorist tense, but I don’t recall.

  2. Two days ago while at a birthday party I met a young woman. We began a discussion about “spiritualism” and with her comments I replied, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom.” My e-mail to her enlarged a bit on it. Then you send me this blog on the same topic so I forwarded it. More than a coincidence! Say a prayer will you for Jen? Blessings, Roy

  3. ‘’ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

    And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you : depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Matthew 7:21-23 KJV

    It was a long time ago,but I well remember with what shock and fear I first read these words in the King James Bible.The Bible I read them in was one of those red letter editions ,where the words of Christ are all written in red.Somehow this made them even more shocking,giving them emphasis.

    What more terrible words could ever come to us from the Lord than these . Even more frightening than these other words of Christ in Mathew.

    “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’’ Matthew 10:34 NIV

    Where was the Jesus I was used to ? – Jesus meek and mild,gentle Jesus ,always there for us.

    This didn’t seem like the understanding Jesus who spoke to the woman at the well.Or the Jesus who protected from stoning ,the woman taken in adultery .Jesus had let her off with a caution not to sin again.

    Now here was a tough Jesus,frighteningly tough !

    Looking back now ,I see these words of Jesus are tough love.Jesus cannot be a soft touch.He knows what we humans can be like since He was one,both wholly God and wholly man.Looking back now, I realize Jesus’ strong words are words of warning,warning to mend our ways.

    I find them very similar to the words of warning in the beginning of the Book of Isaiah,where the prophet begins ‘Quit your worship charades’ .He goes on to warn those who practise hollow religion that ‘something fundamental is lacking’, to borrow your words,Pastor.

    The prophet continues his warning –

    ‘’When you put on your next prayer- performance ,
    I’ll be looking the other way.
    No matter how long or loud or often you pray.
    I’ll not be listening .
    And do you know why ? Because you’ve been tearing
    People to pieces,and your hands are bloody.’’ Isaiah 1 : 17 ‘The Message’’

    What is being warned against is sham religion,religion carried out in form but not in spirit.The heart is missing.Those who continue this way,God will ignore.He shall not know them.Nothing could be worse.

    What is necessary is to love God with all one’s strength and all one’s heart,and this means obedience to His will.Nothing else will do,.There can be no half way.We must put God’s Will before our own will.

    Jesus showed us the way.That Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane,the night He was betrayed,the night before He died for us,Jesus was deep in prayer.He showed us the way. Even In His agony .Jesus said this to His Father.

    “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’’ Luke 22:42 NIV

    We must be obedient to God’s Will and as you put it Pastor ,’’at the level of the heart’’. ‘’Heart – grounded obedience’’ is the perfect phrase for what is necessary.For then He will know us and receive us unto Himself.

    Last week I was asked by the chaplain ,Gill,at our special monthly Mother’s Union Lord’s Supper , to write and lead the prayers of intercession at St Michael’s cathedral, at the Sunday morning eucharist on the 18th 0ctober.I joyfully welcomed the opportunity and have been working on writing these intercessions ,which are now sent to the printers.

    The 18th is the day we remember Luke,author of the third Gospel and the Book of Acts.So I have included a paragraph of prayers of intercession for doctors of today.,that God give them skill and wisdom.Also for students, scholarly Luke being a patron of students as well as doctors.Artists too ,I believe.

    In the Anglican church ,the last prayer of intercession is traditionally for those who have gone before us in faith. I thought very much of Christ’s words of warning ,discussed in this ‘Just Call Me Pastor ‘blog,and the terrible words

    ‘’I never knew you : depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’’

    With these words in mind I wrote the final paragraph of the prayers of intercession for Luke’s Day.

    ‘’ Finally , we remember those who have gone before us in faith.Loving Father, guide us to be obedient to your will, so by your knowing us, we have a share with your saints, in your kingdom.
    We pray to the Father. Hear our prayer ‘’

    By loving heartfelt obedience to God’s Will ,He will know us .Christ’s words of warning are an urgent loving message to us, which we must urgently heed.

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