Discipleship in the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 7:21-29 |ian thomas
June 30th, 2019
Main Idea: True disciples of Jesus not only know his teachings but also act upon them with a holistic righteousness.
True & False Disciples (7:21-23)
Four things here amplify the serious nature of what Jesus is warning:
It is “many” who will be self-deceived
They have “right” and “orthodox” theology: Lord is a term of deity attributed to Jesus
They are zealous and passionate: Lord, Lord is an emphatic address
They had ministry success: they prophesied, cast out demons, and had mighty works all done in the name of Jesus.
However, Jesus declares to them “I never knew you;” this does not mean that Jesus was unaware of these false disciples, but instead an indictment that he did not have a relationship with them. There is a difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing someone.
Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness,” which in the context of the Sermon on the Mount includes not just the “obvious” sinners, but those religious hypocrites who appear externally to be righteous, but internally are hollow and spiritually bankrupt.
Matthew 23:28: “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
How is it possible that these false disciples had all of this ministry success, while not actually knowing Jesus? They were falling victim to the common temptation to assume that “success” or gifting automatically means God’s endorsement.
“God was acting as he was not because he was endorsing my manner of living but because of his zeal for his own glory and his faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people. And God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses to use them. The success of a ministry is always more a picture of who God is than a statement about who the people are that he is using for his purpose.” ~ Paul Tripp
All of these ministry successes were essentially external; these false disciples were equating gifting with true spirituality, and activity with godliness. The warning here is that it is possible to do all of these things without being truly changed by the gospel.
What should we do in the face of this difficult saying? We must check what is happening at the level of our heart, soul, and motivations, not merely our external behavior, actions, or what we can “do” for Jesus.
Luke 10:20: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We must never forget how our names are written in heaven: it is not by our own works or obedience, but only because of the grace and kindness of Jesus Christ.
“Matthew 7:21-23 is not given to cause morbid introspection or undue self-doubt for the believer, but rather to exhort one not to be enamored with external gifts and powers and behaviors without paying attention to the soul and heart.” ~ Jonathan Pennington
True & False Foundations (7:24-27)
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by drawing a parable between the “wise man” who builds his house on the rock, and the “foolish man” (Greek: moros) who builds his house on the sand. This foundation matters because the inevitability of the storm which will reveal what is hidden beneath the surface.
This again fits the theme of the Sermon, as Jesus invites his disciples to go deeper than what can be seen on the surface. The righteousness of the Scribes & Pharisees may look impressive, but it has a shaky foundation. Building a foundation on rock is hard work. It is not flashy or impressive, but it is the only thing that will ensure the house stands when the storm comes.
The “wise man” not only hears the words of Jesus, but actually does them. Building a foundation on the “rock” means building a life on the safety and security of Jesus himself, who is the cornerstone of the church (cf. 1 Peter 2:7-8).
Conversely, the “foolish man” hears the words of Jesus, but does nothing with them. This is what James warns of elsewhere in the New Testament: James 1:22-24 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
Building on the sand represents the best of our own efforts and our own self-salvation projects.
Essentially what Jesus is inviting us to here is a life of discipleship. The life of true discipleship means entering the narrow gate and traveling the hard way; it doesn’t look like quick-fixes or mere behavior change. As Eugene Peterson has wisely said, discipleship is “a long obedience in the same direction.”
We must never separate this obedience from Jesus, however. The hard work of discipleship is impossible unless we are built upon the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our obedience comes as a response to being transformed by his grace.
The True King & His Kingdom (7:28-29)
The crowd is “astonished” at Jesus’ teaching, because he was speaking with an authority that was undeniable.
It is not enough to simply be “astonished” at the words of Jesus, however. This is an invitation to life in the Kingdom of Heaven, and to live our lives as citizens under the rule & reign of King Jesus. When the church lives in this way, the Kingdom of Heaven will be declared and displayed to a world that is in desperate need of the good news of the gospel.
The “astonishing” message of the Sermon on the Mount would continue to surprise, as Jesus continues to live a perfect life, is crucified in the place of a sinful humanity, but then is raised from the dead three days later accomplish salvation and secure redemption.
Acts 17:6–7: And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
“As the church awaits the return of the risen Savior, the disciple of Jesus are invited into a way of being in the world that leads them into an experience of the present-but-not-yet-full human flourishing, aligning them with the reason God created the world as the place of life and peace for his beloved creatures, and empowering them to be engaged in bringing flourishing to the world. Jesus is the sage and king who is inviting hearers into his coming kingdom of flourishing and life.” ~ Jonathan Pennington
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