The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
We are coming now to one of the most serious statements found in this Sermon on the Mount, and probably in the whole of the Bible: Matthew 7:21-23. Let’s read these verses first and you will realize why this is a very serious statement. Jesus is coming to a conclusion to His Sermon on the Mount. He makes two statements that are parallel. The first one is in verses 21-23; the second statement is verses 24-27, which we will study next. Matthew 7:21-23:
“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. 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Isn’t that a tough statement? Christ is not talking about the infidel, He is not talking about unbelievers, but here He is talking about sincere Christians who believe the right thing, who say the right thing and who do the right thing. But they will find themselves out of the Kingdom, lost. Can this be possible? Christ says “yes,” it can be. So we better listen to Him.
Let’s look at these verses and see what He meant. First of all, He begins in verse 21 by saying “not everyone,” so He is qualifying here. Should Christians call Christ “Lord, Lord”? Yes. We know that those who refuse to call Him Lord will be lost. There is no doubt. But the fact that you call Him Lord is not a guarantee that you are saved. When He says “not everyone,” He doesn’t mean an odd person here and an odd person there because, in verse 22, He identifies “not everyone” by using “many.” So that is a tough one. I suppose we can say like the disciples did when Jesus said to them, “One of you will forsake me”; each one asked, “Is it I?” We need to wrestle with this passage.
When Christ said “not everyone” He meant “many.” We need to look at that seriously. What Christ is saying here is that many will be deceived and we need to analyze in what areas. In the judgment of the unbelievers, which will take place at the end of the millennium, there will be two groups among the lost. There will be the unbelievers, which will be a large number of people, but among them will be those who claim to be believers but who find themselves outside the gates of the New Jerusalem.
I would divide the human race into three groups: first of all, we have the believers who will be saved. They may suffer for awhile in the world, but they will enjoy eternity with Christ. They are the best of the three groups. Then we have the unbelievers who may have enjoyed, to some degree, this world. But, in the judgment, they will be find wanting and will be lost. But the third group has to be the worst of the lot. They are believers and have given up the world to some degree, but they will not even enjoy heaven. They will not enjoy eternal life, but neither will they enjoy the pleasures of this world. These to me are the worst off. And, unfortunately, Jesus says, “Many will say to me...” and that is the tragedy.
The words “Lord, Lord” is a term that the early New Testament Christians used. To them it was synonymous with the Old Testament word for “Jehovah.” So these people recognize Jesus not simply as a great teacher, but they recognize Jesus as the Savior, Master, God, and Lord. These are not unbelievers; they are believers in Christ. What does Jesus say about them? He says that, “Many will say” that they all believed, they all called Him “Lord, Lord,” but they are not entering the Kingdom of heaven because they were not doing the will of the Father. What did Jesus mean by “the will of the Father”?
In verse 22, these people were saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Is this not the will of the Father? What did Jesus mean by “the will of the Father”?
I want to turn to several texts. Turn to Matthew 12:49-50. This is the incident where Jesus was ministering among the people and His mother and brothers and sisters came to visit Him and the people said to Him while He was talking (verse 47):
Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
Listen to what Jesus said in verse 49:
Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Here we have one clue as to what is the will of God. The will of God is to be a disciple of Christ. What is a disciple of Christ? One who forsakes all and follows Christ. Matthew 10:37-38:
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
“If any man follow me he is not worthy to be my disciple unless he takes up the cross and denies himself.” I want to give you another text which I hope will help further. 1 John 3:23. Here we get another glimpse of what God’s will is:
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
So the will of God is that we should believe in Jesus Christ and love one another. I’ll give you one more text and that is in the gospel of John, Chapter 15. We are familiar with the verse of John 15:5 where Jesus says:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
But let’s go on and look at some other verses beyond that. Look at verse 8 (of John 15), where He is talking to those who are abiding in Christ and who are bearing fruit:
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
So, please remember that a disciple is not only a follower of Christ but one who bears fruit. Let’s see how He explains the fruit (verses 9-12):
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
Please remember that the will of the Father is two-fold: to believe in Jesus Christ and to reflect the love of God. Remember that God’s love is unconditional. You don’t love only those that are good. The nonbelievers can do that. The love of God is unconditional love that we must have for each other. It is easy to love those who are good to us. It is hard to love those who hate us, who speak against us. But that is what God’s will is.
In other words, a true Christian is one who has lost all confidence in himself and who is depending totally on Jesus Christ not only for his salvation but also for His life — Christ lives in me. Let’s go back to Matthew 7:22:
“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 perform many miracles?’”
These people here claim to be Christians: they claim to believe in Christ, they are members of the Church, they may even have high positions in the Church. What are the three things they say? Number one, they say, “Did we not prophesy in your name?” The word ‘prophesied’ means to proclaim God’s message. A prophet is one who proclaims God’s message. And prophecy as used in its broader sense — I am not talking now of just the gift of prophecy, but of prophecy in the broader sense, as Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians 14 — it is to proclaim in the name of Jesus Christ.
Here are people who are speaking in the name of Jesus Christ. They are witnessing, they are preaching, talking, giving a testimony, etc. Is this wrong or right? It is right. No problem there.
Number two, “in your name drive out demons.” We have a lot of this going on these days. There is a ministry going on called “Deliverance Ministries” and some people are spending all there time with it. Is this evidence that these are true Christians? Remember that Jesus is saying that they are claiming to prophesy in His name and are casting out devils.
And number three, “in your name ... perform many miracles.”
The question is, “How can such people — who prophesy in the name of Christ, who cast out devils in the name of Christ, and who do many miracles in the name of Christ — how can they be deceived and lost? How?
For example, turn to 1 Corinthians 12:3. When you look at this statement in Matthew, you feel you are on dangerous ground even if you are a Christian. Let’s see what Paul says here:
Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
So these folks have recognized, through the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is the Savior, He is the Lord, the Messiah, the Jehovah. How then can they be lost? Christ makes it clear that it is possible for them to be lost. 1 Corinthians 13 says that it is possible for us to speak in the language of angels and not have love. Remember, if we love God, we will reflect the love of God. Paul says, “Even if I am the best orator and can convince people, but have not agape [love], I am become a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Let’s read verse 2:
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love [agape], I am nothing.
So it is possible to do these things. For an example, turn to Matthew 24. Remember this chapter is dealing with the signs of the last days. Matthew 24:24 — speaking of our time, the last days:
For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.
When you see these false christs and false prophets doing great signs and wonders, please remember that miracles, signs, wonders, are not the final evidence. But the question is, “How can I be sure that I am not among these ‘many’?” It is an important and valid question. I don’t want to be among those deceived ones. Christ gives us a clue in Matthew 7:23. Why does Jesus reject these people? Two reasons:
“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
These were Christians but their foundation was not Jesus Christ. They taught in His name, they cast out devils in His name, but they were not established on the foundation of “Not I, but Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul says:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
And it is upon this Foundation that we build up our Christianity. Their faith (the people described in Matthew 7) was in their performance.
Please notice the reason they give as to why they want to enter in. They are pointing to their works. “Lord, we have done these things in Your name. Don’t you think we have a right to heaven?” And Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Please notice all these three facts that they claim to have accomplished are based on the word “we”: “We have prophesied in your name, we have cast out devils, we have performed miracles; therefore, don’t we qualify for heaven?”
I want to give you another passage that deals with a similar issue. Turn to Luke 13:23-30 and you will find a similar word in a different context but it is the same idea. It will help us to understand what Jesus is saying here because He is dealing with the same area, the same concerns:
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”[the narrow door where you can take nothing that belongs to you], because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you[we had the Lord’s supper with you], and you taught in our streets.’
“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
This group will be the worst of all: they have not enjoyed either the world or eternal life. (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent three elements that must be in every believer — faith, new birth, endurance.)
Who are the first and who are the last? When Jesus asked the disciples to preach the gospel, He told them to go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Why did the Jews not get in? In Romans 9, it says they had zeal for God but not according to knowledge. Paul explains why the Jews failed to enter in and why the Gentiles succeeded in Romans 9:30-33:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
The Gentiles succeeded because they accepted Christ’s righteousness by faith. The Jews failed because they were depending on their works. But now let’s turn to Romans 10:2-3:
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
That’s what the problem is. Let’s go back to Matthew 7. I said that there are two answers that Christ gives. One is, “I never knew you.” There was not the dynamic relationship of the believer remaining in Christ and Christ remaining in the believer [John 15:5]. That was lacking. Only when we remain in Christ can we bear much fruit and the Father will be pleased. Now look at the second half of verse 23:
“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
I want to give you two statements from the Bible. Turn to Isaiah 64:6 for a very excellent definition of sin:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
All our “righteous acts” — prophesying in Christ’s name, doing good works, casting out devils — if motivated by self-interest, are like “filthy rags.” Self-righteousness is sinful, not because of the acts but because of the motives.
The other passage is Zachariah 3. Remember that the section we are studying in Matthew 7 is in a judgment setting. “Many will say to me in that day” is referring to the judgment and Zachariah 3 is dealing with judgment. And what does is say about the judgment? Zachariah 3:1-4:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem[a symbol of the church], rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”[the righteousness of Christ, which qualifies us for heaven].”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you
The question I want to ask you, the test is: “Where is your confidence? Who are you depending on for your security? Is it in your performance like the Jews? Or are you depending upon Christ?” Number two, remember that God does want righteousness. He wants a people who are keeping the commandments. Did the Jews keep the commandments? Yes. Mechanically — in the letter. Should Christians keep the commandments? More than in the letter — in the spirit. What is the real test? Remember that this is Christ’s conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. How can I know, how can I prevent belonging to that group that will be lost? How can I know that I do not belong to that group? What test must I apply?
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount the answer is very simple. That is the beatitudes. Jesus said (Matthew 5:3):
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” people who have no confidence in their performance and what they do.
This is the attitude we must constantly have. We may not know for sure whether what we are doing is from God or from us because the flesh is always poking its ugly head up to get some credit. But we must have the attitude “in me there is nothing good.” We must say with Paul, “Not I, but the grace of God which was in me.”
If anyone does a Christian duty in order to escape punishment or to get a reward, such religion is worth nothing. The problem with the people that Jesus is describing in Matthew 7 is that they were depending, to some degree, on their performance to qualify for heaven. Yes, God wants a people who are reflecting His character, who are doing mighty works, but we must never look at those works for our ticket to heaven. When we come to God, we must come in the righteousness of Christ. That is why, having said this in verse 23 of Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to say in verse 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.
Is the rock Peter or is it Christ? If it is Peter, you will discover when you study Galatians that Peter fell. He stumbled and Paul had to openly rebuke him. Galatians 2:11-16:
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
“Peter, you know that we are not saved by keeping the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ. Why then did you separate yourself from the Gentiles and go to the Jews? You were denying the gospel.” The Rock is Jesus Christ! That is the place that I want to build my house because I believe the storm is coming; it is almost at our doorstep.
I believe that when it comes it will come suddenly. It came suddenly to Ethiopia and it came suddenly to Uganda. When Iddi Amin took over, the very first statement he made (which I heard with my own ears) was, “I have delivered you from him [past leader] because he was leading our country to ruin. I am not a politician, I am a military man. I want you, after I have got rid of our enemies, to choose your own leader. I will give you this privilege in one year.” (He was there for eight years). When he made that statement everybody said, “At last, God has given us the right man to rule.” They had to eat their own words.
Put your confidence in no man but in Jesus Christ. Build your house on the Rock Jesus Christ. When you come to judgment, you can bring all the good reports of what you did that you want and God will say, “I do not know you.” Never use your performance for your qualification for heaven. There is only one thing that qualifies you and me for heaven and that is the righteousness of Christ. As we stand and build on this Rock, we will bear fruit. Anyone who remains in Christ will bear much fruit and the world will see. Jesus said (Matthew 5:16):
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
The world must recognize that the works are not coming from you; they are coming from God.
These are very strong words. I am concerned about the word “many”; it could include us here. Read the beatitudes again; do you qualify? Are you poor in spirit? Are you hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of Christ? Go down the line and apply them to yourself. This is Christ’s conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. He wants us to build on the Rock.
A true Christian will do many wonderful works but a true Christian will not depend on them for his or her standing before God. Let me give you an example. Supposing you have had a very successful day — you have been kind, helpful, a good witness, you will find it very easy to pray at the end of that day. Another day everything has gone wrong — you got up late, forgot to say your prayers, lost your temper; and you come to the end of the day and the devil says, “God will not listen to you” and you feel that you don’t have the right to pray. That is the human element in us. We are by nature legalists. Human beings tend to depend on their feelings and success or failure. That is why I believe the Celebration Churches have such a big following: because they lean heavily on feelings. It appeals to human nature. That is why the charismatic movement is so successful because they have an “electric shock” that they think is the experience that gives them salvation and they are on dangerous ground.
But please don’t go out and say I don’t have to study my Bible. If you really are resting in Christ you will study. John 6:54-57 says:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
What is “his flesh”? The Word of God. We will read the Bible, however, for a different reason: because we want to grow spiritually. A true Christian will always be hungry for the Word of God, just like physically when you are hungry you want to eat. The battle that you and I have to fight is the battle with self. The most difficult form of self to fight, the most disguised form of self, is when it raises its ugly head in the context of religion. The worst form of self is self-righteousness. Faith is always a battle. It is like swimming upstream; you cannot relax. Faith is “Not I, but Christ.”