Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of [the heavens]. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in [the heavens] will enter. On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong.’ (Matthew 7:21-24 CEB)
- Having begun by addressing the community of prophets, Jesus ends by drawing a boundary around it. He has just said that wolves will try to infiltrate the flock, and that we can tell them by their fruit.
- Jesus has just said “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit” (7:18). I said yesterday that this statement seems too black-and-white, and apparently Jesus agrees: some folks will do “good” and still not know the Lord. So apparently we can’t simply know a tree by its fruit?
- I’m not trying to trap Jesus, here. I just think Christians need to read this stuff critically, even if it is printed in red. Too often Christians read the Bible as if a single verse can be spoken as if it is a TRUTH FOR ALL TIME, especially if Jesus says it. But there is nuance even–especially–in the words of Jesus.
- This final judgment scene sounds a lot like the one later in Matthew, when neither the sheep nor the goats recognize Jesus in “the least of these” (25:40).
- Look at the language: not everybody will get into the heavens; only those who do the will of the Father in the heavens. This echoes the language used in the beginning of the sermon. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of the heavens. Those who are harassed for righteousness’ sake have a great reward in the heavens.
- It also echoes the language from the middle of the sermon: those who give, pray, and fast in secret will be rewarded by the Father in the heavens.
- Taken together with these other references and what Jesus has just said about knowing a tree by its fruit, I believe Jesus is saying something like this: You can tell false prophets from real ones by the effect of their lives; not in showy or flashy religion or even in miracle-working, but in the quiet cultivation of their soul. This is about knowing me in your deepest self. Apart from that knowledge, even prophecy, miracles, and exorcisms are “doing wrong.”
- Jesus seems to recognize this danger: Even his new community of prophets must guard against hypocrisy. He has spent this entire sermon talking about the difference between religion-for-show and real transformation of the heart. But 2000 years later, we see the problem replicated. “Christian hypocrisy” should be an impossibility, but it is instead a cliché.
- I think this judgment day saying should go hand-in-hand with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Some who call Jesus “Lord” will not enter the kin-dom. But some who didn’t recognize him will: “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, or a stranger?”