At the conclusion of his sermon delivered on the mount, Jesus vested his words with ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY – Matthew 7:21-28.
The Sermon on the Mount is not a program for reforming civil society, implementing economic justice, or a utopian pipe dream for the perfect society. Instead, it provides clear instructions for how his disciples must live in the present age as faithful citizens of HIS kingdom. For his followers, his teachings are not optional, and at the sermon’s conclusion, Jesus vested his words with ultimate authority.
His discourse concluded with an ominous warning. To modify, compromise, or ignore the words of Jesus will result in everlasting destruction for the offender, and for his disciples, obedience to HIS words is not optional:
- (Matthew 7:21-23) – “Not every man that says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but he that is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name did many works of power? And then will I confess to them: Never have I acknowledged you! Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!”
On THAT day, some men and women who performed great works in his name will nevertheless be rejected. Jesus did not depict them as pagans or especially immoral. They even called him “Lord,” and they prophesied, exorcised demons in his name, and did many mighty works for him. And the emphasis in the Greek text is on the term “many,” the “many” things that these “many” men did as his supposed representatives. The warning is not just applicable to a tiny minority of disobedient believers.
It is noteworthy that Jesus did not classify their miracles as counterfeits or deny that they did them. The problem is something much deeper than the ability to perform miraculous signs and wonders. And here, not only does Jesus not acknowledge them as belonging to him he classifies them as “workers of lawlessness.” While perhaps coincidental, quite possibly this saying of Jesus lies behind Paul’s later description of the “man of lawlessness” who will cause many to apostatize with his “lying signs and wonders” – (2 Thessalonians 2:3-9).
On the day when he judges his own, Jesus will command these men and women to “depart.” While the passage does not say where they will be sent, elsewhere he warned that a day was coming when his opponents would be “cast into outer darkness, where they will be wailing and gnashing of teeth!”
Fortunately, Jesus continued and provided his audience with the explanation for how these disciples became “workers of lawlessness.”
- (Matthew 7:24-27) – “Therefore, everyone who hears my words, these ones, and does them will be likened to a prudent man, who built his house upon the rock; and the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and rushed against that house, and it fell not; for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these my words and does them not will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew and lashed against that house, and it fell, and its fall was great.”
Jesus compared the man who hears and does his words to the “prudent” builder who constructs his house on a rock-solid foundation. In Luke’s version, the man was quite thorough – “he is like a man building a house who dug and deepened and laid a foundation upon the rock” – (Luke 6:48).
The Greek word rendered “prudent” or phronimos indicates someone who is thoughtful, intelligent, attentive, and astute; a man who plans his decisions and actions very carefully. This is the origin of the English noun ‘phronesis,’ which refers to wisdom in the determination of ends and how to achieve them.
In contrast, the man who fails to heed Christ’s words is compared to the foolish builder who built on a foundation of sand. “Foolish” translates the Greek word môros from which the English word ‘moron’ is derived. The Greek term denotes one who is dull, witless, unthinking, heedless.
But what determines whether one enters the kingdom of God is not his intelligence quotient, but whether he or she heeds the words of Jesus. It is the man or woman who does them who becomes “prudent” and is rewarded by Christ on the day when it matters the most. But however intelligent he or she may be, the disciples who fail to follow his teachings will be sent into outer darkness.
But which “words” did Jesus mean? At the outset of his discourse, he declared that he did not come to destroy or discard the “law and prophets,” but to “fulfill” them. The Pharisees were renowned for their scrupulous observation of the Law, including the added oral traditions that went well beyond its minimum requirements. Nevertheless, their law-keeping was insufficient for entrance into the kingdom of God. And Jesus did not come simply to reiterate or renew the Torah. Something more was required.
And in his concluding remarks, the “words” that must be heeded and performed to avoid his rejection are the ones declared by him in his sermon given on the mount that very day, and all of them without exception.
Thus, anyone who desires to enter his kingdom must live a life characterized by humility, hunger for righteousness, mercy to others, pure hearts, avoidance of retaliation, peacemaking, honest communications, and a willingness to endure unjust suffering for his sake – (Matthew 5:3-12).
His disciple must be a light illuminating this darkened world. Not only is the disciple forbidden to kill he must not harbor any anger towards another man or woman, period. Instead, he must make reconciliation with the offended party his top priority – (Matthew 5:13-26).
The disciple must not lust after someone who is not his spouse, but instead, he must uphold a lifelong commitment to his own wife. Rather than swear oaths, the believer must speak plain and true words – Let your “yea be yea, and nay, nay” – (Matthew 5:27-37).
To inherit the kingdom, it is necessary to eschew retaliation and violence. His disciples are summoned to love, pray for, and do good to their “enemies.” By showing mercy to opponents, they emulate God and become “complete” just as the “Father in the heavens” – (Matthew 5:44-48).
Jesus did not distinguish between “private” vengeance and collective retaliation, and he did NOT include exception clauses for retaliation carried out at the behest of the State or society. His disciples are called to something higher than the world’s way of doing things. The man who seeks loopholes in his words does not have the mind of a disciple and risks rejection along with the “lawless” before his court.
And believers must not do works of righteousness to attain the applause of others. Hypocrisy is incompatible with discipleship. The disciple must center his life on the “Kingdom of God” and “lay up treasures in heaven” rather than in the present evil age. Heirs of the kingdom “cannot serve two masters.” Allegiance to Jesus must be absolute – (Matthew 6:1-24).
His disciple must not judge or condemn others. Judgment is the prerogative of God, period. Instead, he must treat others as he wishes to be treated, and in this way, he will “fulfill the law and the prophets” – (Matthew 7:1-6).
The disciple must stay on the narrow path and avoid the popular and “broad” roads of this age. At all times, he must watch for and avoid false prophets. They can be discerned by their fruits – (Matthew 7:7-20).
Much is at stake in how we respond to these words of Jesus. Men and women that do not hear and do them will be cast into outer darkness. Therefore, it is exceedingly unwise to ignore his words, selectively choose which ones to obey or not, or create loopholes by which we avoid obeying his commandments.
The Sermon on the Mount is an “instruction manual” for how his disciples must live in this fallen age, regardless of the values, demands, and expectations of the surrounding society. Loyalty to his kingdom must take precedence over all other allegiances. Jesus conformed his life to this program in his ministry, trial, and execution, a pattern of self-sacrificial service we are summoned to emulate. And most certainly, he was no hypocrite.
This does not mean that following his teachings and example is easy. In places, his Sermon on the Mount is quite challenging, and over the centuries, many theologians, pastors, and Bible students have worked diligently to water down and domesticate those more troubling sayings. For them, the category of “lawlessness” is quite apt.
By claiming that “only he who hears these words of mine and does them will enter the Kingdom, Jesus claimed ultimate authority for his teachings, authority that exceeds even the “law” and what was written in the “prophets.” We ignore, modify, twist or disobey his words at our own very great peril.