In Matthew 5-7, Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount. It is hard to overstate what a masterpiece of a sermon this is. All at the same time, it is theologically brilliant, incredibly challenging, and intensely practical. The Sermon on the Mount presents the clearest and purest vision for the moral standards of followers of Christ. In the sermon, Jesus sets high standards for those who would be His disciples, and He steps all over the toes of His audience multiple times.
Near the end of the sermon, Jesus says something that I think should make all of us pause and reflect upon our lives:
“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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Most people are used to the practice of having guest speakers preach at their congregations from time to time, whether in the form of a gospel meeting, a summer series, a pulpit exchange, or something similar. It can be refreshing to hear a guest speaker, as it presents a change of pace from what you are used to. Sometimes the novelty of the guest preacher’s speaking style can help you to be more alert to the message he is presenting.
And it can be nice to be a guest speaker as well: although preachers should always teach Scripture as they understand it, at times it can be difficult to present a particularly challenging message (even if it is biblical) if you are afraid that it will upset elders and church members. When you are preaching somewhere else, you can feel less encumbered by such pressure.
Imagine that Jesus was scheduled to visit your church next Sunday and preach. I have no doubt that Jesus could do a brilliant job speaking on a host of topics, but since preachers usually re-use their best sermons when they travel, let’s assume that Jesus would deliver a version of the Sermon on the Mount. As it comes time to bring His message to a close, do you think He would conclude it in a similar fashion to what He does in Matthew 7? What might that look like at your congregation in 2016?
Maybe He would say something like this:
“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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not attend church services every time the doors were open? Did we not read through the entire Bible in a year? Did we not properly condemn all the sins in society around us? Did we not share all the ‘I believe in Jesus’ memes on Facebook?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Please understand, I am in no way criticizing any of the things listed above (well, maybe I am criticizing sharing Jesus memes on Facebook a little), any more than Jesus would criticize prophecy, or the exorcism of demons, or other mighty works. Too often though, I think we can be tricked into thinking that it is these things that enable us to be justified before God.
Instead, Jesus said it is doing the Father’s will that makes us right with Him: the daily grind of crucifying our own wills and submitting to the will of the Father instead. If Jesus were to come and speak at your congregation and deliver His most famous sermon, I suggest that it would be just as challenging to you and your brothers and sisters in Christ as it was to His audience so long ago.
And it would certainly require a lot more from you than sharing something on Facebook.