• Wayne Shelton

The Radical Choice

Matthew 7:21-29


Jesus likes to present choices and to pose questions. He says there are two gates and two roads (Matt. 7:13-14). He asks, ‘Will you find the narrow gate and follow the hard road?’ The hard road is good, for it leads to life. Or will you enter the broad gate and take the easy path? The easy road makes no demands, but it offers no rewards and leads to destruction.

Two trees bear two kinds of fruit (7:15-20). A fruitless tree deceives people who stand at a distance. Just so, wicked persons can deceive others for a time. But eventually the sum of their words and deeds reveal all. Good trees bear good fruit; bad trees bear bad fruit. Jesus asks each person, ‘What fruit do you bear?’


There are two ways to call upon the Lord (7:21-23). Some call upon his name and do great things in that name, but do not know him. Others call upon Jesus truly, as he is presented in the gospel. And they are known by him.


Finally, two builders construct houses on two foundations (7:24-27). We can build on sand or on the rock. When the rains come, when the rivers rise, when the winds blow, only one house will stand. We have studied the two gates, the two roads, and the two destinations. Now we consider the two ways to call upon the Lord and the two foundations we can lay for life.


In our passage, Jesus describes a choice every hearer must make. It is easy to be fond of Jesus, even to revere him and call him Lord. But it is deadly, then and now, to claim to be a disciple while falling short of true discipleship.


In Jesus’ day, almost everyone was willing to listen to his teaching and call him a prophet (Matt. 21:11, 46; Luke 7:16). Today, many Americans think they are Christians. As long as they are not atheists or Buddhists, as long as they go to church occasionally, as long as they think well of Jesus, they call themselves Christians.


Jesus’ warning about false claims of discipleship in this passage is connected to his warning about false prophets in the previous passage (7:15-20). There are links between the two sections. In 7:15, Jesus warns, ‘Watch out for wolves.’ In 7:22, people say, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name?’ In 7:18-29, Jesus compares false prophets to trees that bear bad fruit and say such trees are thrown into the fire. In 7:23, Jesus also judges those who falsely profess Christ: ‘Away from me, you evildoers!’ These warnings apply to us in two ways. First, Jesus describes false prophets so that we can be watchful. Second, he warns disciples neither to succumb to their influence nor to follow in their footsteps.


False prophets appear to be church leaders. They prophesy. If they ‘prophesy’ in Jesus’ name (7:22), they claim to teach God’s Word. Jesus says they also perform miracles and cast out demons, all ‘in Jesus’ name. That is, they claim to perform signs in Jesus’ power.


The confession, ‘Lord, Lord…’ seems to be proper; it is polite, orthodox, fervent, and public. Thus ‘Lord, Lord’ meets all the external criteria for a good confession. Yet in this case it fails to meet the most important criterion – genuineness. There are two signs of genuineness: doing the will of the Father and knowing Jesus.


So then, we can call Jesus Lord and not know him as Lord of our life. Just as important, it is possible to obey Jesus on many points and not know him personally. Jesus does not say this to frighten tender disciples. Notice precisely what he says: ‘And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’’ (7:23). Every word counts.

Jesus then begins the concluding paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount by giving one of his most insightful parables about two builders constructing two houses on two foundations. In good weather, every house looks sound. But when the storms come, they reveal the quality of the work. If the catastrophes of life fall upon the solid house, it will not fall. But when troubles befall the house that rests on a flawed foundation, it will collapse.


Everyone must ask, then, ‘What is the rock on which I build? Is my foundation sure? Jesus ends his sermon referring to a great crash, why? He is making a point. It is not enough to study or applaud the words of Jesus. We must do what he says. Otherwise, we are in danger of hypocrisy, in danger of facing a great crash.


On what are you building your life? See you this Sunday.

Coram Deo,

Pastor Wayne


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