Getting to know you…

Matthew 7:21-29

True and False Disciples

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The Wise and Foolish Builders

    24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

 

 

            We have done it: we have made it to the end of the Sermon on the Mount!  We have spent 16 weeks looking at this difficult teaching of Jesus and I have been challenged to view these words of Jesus again with fresh eyes, as I hope you have.

            But before we move on to the next thing, we have one more challenging passage to look at.  And this one is a toughie.  Verse 21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  What?  That sounds like salvation by works.  Where is the grace?  Jesus goes on to tell people who prophesy, who cast out demons, and perform miracles in his name that they are not a part of his kingdom.  These are things that I have never done and Jesus tells them straight forward “I never knew you.”

            When Jesus tells the people that have been casting out demons and prophesying and doing other miracles that he never knew them, he isn’t saying that he has never heard of them; that he is completely unfamiliar with them.  What he is telling them is that they have never taken the time to get to know Jesus personally.  You see, you can have all of the knowledge in the world about Jesus but that isn’t what he wants.  You could read every book of the Bible, read every book about Jesus in the library, listen to hundreds or thousands of sermons and all of that might give you a lot of information and knowledge about Jesus, but it doesn’t make you know Jesus.  It doesn’t make you love Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t simply want us to know about him, he wants us to know him.

            This is kind of like a teenage girl that reads everything she can get her hands on about Justin Bieber.  She reads all of the teen magazines, watches Show Biz Tonight, buys all of his albums, memorizes all of his songs, and commits his biography to heart.  She goes to his concerts when he is in town, shelling out the big bucks to be one of thousands at JPJ.  She can tell you Justin’s birthday, his favorite food, favorite color, and favorite sport.  This really dedicated fan might even know his shoe size and perhaps has even made a bid on a lock of Justin’s hair on ebay.  She knows everything that she could possibly know about Justin Bieber. 

So one day this super-fan waits outside of the back entrance at NBC studios when Justin Bieber does the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Her cousin works in security there and she convinces her cousin to let her wait outside until Justin leaves so that she can talk to him.  Justin walks out the door, surrounded by his entourage, and she begins yelling, “Justin.  Hey, Justin.  It’s me, Margaret.  I’m your biggest fan.  I love you Justin.” 

Justin Bieber may stop for a minute or two, perhaps sign an autograph and pose for a picture, but he gets in his limousine and drives away.  Her real-life time with Justin Bieber lasts all of 90 seconds.  She is not invited to go on tour with him or join his entourage because Margaret does not know Justin Bieber.  She simply knows a lot about Justin Bieber.

            Jesus doesn’t simply want us to know about him.  Jesus wants us to truly know him.  And I don’t know that there is anyone more guilty of this than us pastors and theologians.  We/I study passages of scripture, read through commentaries, read books, and so on, trying to learn more about Jesus.  And there is nothing wrong with doing this, but it isn’t what Jesus really wants of us.  Jesus wants to us to know him, not just know about him.  When Jesus sends those who do not know him away, he is saying that they have a Justin Bieber kind of Christianity.

            I am going to make a bold statement about this passage and I hope that I can back it up today.  I believe that this passage speaks more about God’s grace than judgment.  Think about where today’s passage falls in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has spent a fair amount of time talking about ethics.  He has spoken about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile.  He has spoken about not only changing our outward actions like murder and adultery, but about getting right down to the cause of these problems like anger and lust.  He has instructed us to not practice our acts of righteousness to be seen by other but to close the door when we pray, wash our face when we fast, and give to the poor in private.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg!  Jesus is calling his followers to do some very difficult things, things that some will say are even impossible.  And now he is saying to people who prophesy, heal, and perform miracles in his name that this isn’t enough to get you into the kingdom!  If I had any hope at all of getting into the kingdom of God before now all of my hope is shot.  Even if I do forgive those who have hurt me and love my enemies, I know that I have never performed a miracle or a healing or even prophesied.  So when Jesus tells these people that have done such wonderful and great things in his name that he never knew them, I can become really discouraged.  Because if they didn’t make it into the kingdom, then what hope do you or I have?

            I believe that the reason that Jesus puts this statement at the end of his Sermon on the Mount is because he is saying that all of these things, all of these teachings, all of these ethics aren’t going to save you.  In the end what matters is knowing Jesus.  Not knowing of Jesus, but knowing him.

            Grace is free.  After all of these difficult teachings Jesus is reminding his listeners that all of these things aren’t going to get them eternal life.  The Sermon on the Mount isn’t about how someone can acquire life after death.  The Sermon on the Mount is about how someone can acquire life before death.  This is how we are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ, not because it will make God love us more or because we can earn the grace of God.  This is how we are to live because we have received God’s grace and we want to live in such a way that will show our love for God and our love for our neighbor.

            Jesus goes on to say that a person that hears these words of his and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a stone.  When the rain came down and the floods came up, the house on the stone stayed firm.  But the person who hears the words that Jesus has to say and does not put them into action is like a person who builds their house on the sand.  And when the rain comes down and the flood waters rise that house falls flat.

            I tried to picture this a bit this week.  I imagined the exact same house; built to the same specifications and built to code.  The same materials were used to build the houses.  Maybe even the same carpenters, electricians, and drywall guys were hired to do the various work in the houses.  In my mind, they are both even painted the same color.  To the average passer-by these two houses are identical.  The only difference is that one is built on the rock and the other is built on sand.

            Many days there is no problem with the house built on the sand.  On a dry, sunny day, the house built on the sand is just fine.  But it is when the rain comes and the waters rise that the house on the sand falls down.

            I have seen some structures in my life fall over.  Barns that could not withstand high winds, buildings that couldn’t withstand the force of a wrecking ball.  But the thing that sets this house built on sand apart from the structures that I have seen topple is the way it goes down.  The ground is literally taken out from underneath the house built on the sand which then causes the rest of the house to crumble.  Usually when we see something fall it is because of poor craftsmanship of the building and all that is left is the concrete foundation.  But when a house is built on sand, the foundation is removed and therefore weakens the entire structure.  Something as gentle as water can be very destructive to sand. 

I remember when I was pretty young, probably about third grade, my family went on a vacation to Florida.  My mother has a cousin that lives in the sunshine state so we went to visit him and my good friend Mickey.  And we also made time to go to the beach so that my brothers and I could see the ocean for the first time.  We went in the middle of the winter, so it was a little too cold to go swimming, but I remember spending time on the beach making sand castles and sand sculptures.  Some people had crafted some beautiful sculptures out of the sand, so of course we wanted to try our hand at it as well.  Our sculptures turned out nothing like those that we saw on the beach, but we had fun, nonetheless.  Of course, we blamed the fact that our sculptures turned out so poorly on the fact that the sun was going down and it was hard to see.

            So we go back to the beach the next day, and we look around for our sculptures and sand castles, and what do we find?  Nothing.  Flat, smooth sand for as far as the eye can see.  You see, the tide had come in and completely erased everything that we had worked on.  We were at the beach at low tide, right around sundown, but six hours later, high tide came in and just wiped out everything.  And that was a gentle water lapping upon the sand.

            So I imagine a house built on the sand.  This house can be structurally sound, built by the best carpenters, best contractors, with the best material.  But the sand is going to wash out from underneath it.  And if that happens, the most structurally sound house is going to fall to the ground.

            I think that when Jesus says that anyone that hears his words and puts them into practice is like a person who builds his house on the rock that he is saying that our relationship with him, our knowing him is to be the foundation of everything that we do.  If we follow Jesus out of this knowing Jesus intimately, then what we do will stand the trials and temptations of this world.  But if we do things for the wrong reasons, then this world will tear down these houses, even if we do the right things for the wrong reasons.

            We can have the strongest theology and we can put our theology into practice, but if we don’t know Jesus, it will fail us.  We can love our enemies, give to those in need, and turn the other cheek.  We can follow Jesus right down to the letter.  But if we don’t first have that foundation of knowing Jesus, this house of ethics, this house of works will fall.

            Paul sums it all up in such a beautiful way in his letter to the Philippians.  In chapter three, Paul says this:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

 

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

 

Paul was a man that thought he had it all figured out.  He knew the law and he followed it as good as anyone before him or after him had.  He came from the right family, studied under the best teacher.  And he was so sure of what he was doing that he was willing to persecute and facilitate in the killing of Christians.  But then one day the foundation got washed out from underneath the house that he had been building.  That foundation washed away when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

            But Paul’s story doesn’t stop there.  Paul constructed a new house, this one built on a firm foundation.  And in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that no one can lay any other foundation other than the one that is Christ Jesus.  All other ground is sinking sand.

            I want to encourage all of you today as we conclude our study on the Sermon on the Mount to take Jesus’ teachings seriously.  I know that this is difficult and I know that we will all inevitably fail at some point in our efforts to follow Jesus.  But we must keep in mind that as we seek to follow Jesus, as we try to live the life that he has called us to live, nothing that we do will earn our salvation and nothing that we do can make God love us more.  Following Jesus is not about life after death; it is about life before death.  And this life comes out of knowing Jesus, not just knowing about him.  Let’s talk to Jesus right now.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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