As Jesus concludes, he wants to speak about the kind of service that he rejects. Remembering that this is probably the first teaching that Jesus gave to his Disciples after he called them to be Apostles, it is important that these first Apostles understood that not all service is acceptable to him.
When Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount, he began by talking about Beatitude people, those who were broken and dependent solely upon him for life. Jesus concludes his sermon by describing those who have moved away from being broken dependant people, to those who are self-assured and self- sufficient.
In Christian ministry it is very easy to make this shift and not even notice it. Sometimes our service is a waste of time, it has no value. It may appear to be successful or effective but success or effectiveness is not evidences of acceptance or approval by God.
"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, 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!' Matthew 7:21-23.
Hiding behind spiritual language.
Look how these people addressed Jesus. “Lord, Lord.” The use of repetition in scripture usually is to bring forth emphasis. Repetition in addressing another person is only used about fifteen times in the Bible and it always brings out personal intimacy. When the angel intervened and prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, the Lord said "Abraham, Abraham."
When God called Moses at the burning bush, He addressed him, "Moses, Moses."
When one of Jesus' dear friends Mary, sat at His feet while her sister, another dear friend, toiled to prepare a meal and complained to the Lord, He responded "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things."
Before He was crucified, Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you (all of you) like wheat. But I have prayed for you.”
The way these people addressed Jesus at this time was consistent with how they always used spiritual language. Often people can develop a whole new sub-language in an attempt to hide what is really going on in their hearts. They way these people addressed Jesus had the appearance of intimacy, but in reality is was words without substance. Jesus was able to see past their words.
WHAT’S IN THE HEART WILL COME OUT. OUR LIFE SOURCE WILL BE REVEALED
There is an important dynamic at work in this passage that we need to grasp if we are going to understand what Jesus is teaching here.
Jesus tells us "Many will say to me on that day Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' The reason why these people spoke about their ministry was because that what was in their hearts, and what they lived for. When we stand before Jesus, what we lived for will be revealed.
Many will say Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'
Others will say, ‘did we not raise a family in your name?’
‘Did we not work hard and earn money to provide the best materially for my family in your name?’ ‘Did we not serve the church in your name?’
In other words, what we lived for, and what we did not live for shall be revealed.
As we work through this passage, we need to put our life source into this verse, and realise that if we have the wrong life source, then the response of Jesus to us will be the same, ‘I do not know you.’
Being known by God is more important than serving God.
Being known by God is more important than service, even if we do it in Jesus' name.
Look how these people introduced themselves. They did not talk about their relationship with Jesus, they did not say how pleased they were to see the Lord. No there whole focus was on what they were doing, as if Jesus would be impressed. Their ministry had become their life.
We need to unpack what these people are saying when they say 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles.’ This was a spontaneous statement, which blows the whistle on where these people were. They could no longer hide. They could no longer hide what was really in their hearts. They were saying to Jesus
“ For me life equals ministry.”
How they effected other people's lives was more important than what God was doing in their life.
Power for ministry was more important than intimacy in fellowship.
Spiritual maturity was measured by success in ministry rather than fruitful characters.
If we think that life is about what we do, then according to this passage we are false prophets; we are not the real thing. We conveniently associate a false prophet with what they teach. However, Jesus goes a lot deeper, he says that if anyone thinks that their life is more valuable, more useful, more important because of what they are doing, then they are false.
Jesus is very clear in what he says. ‘MANY will say to me on that day, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles.’ Most of us fall into this trap, we congratulate ourselves, and we think how wonderful we are, for we have served the Lord.
However, when we stand before the Lord, our service should be the last thing in our minds. Finding life and value in your service is an indication of being false. Finding life and value in anything, no matter how good or respectable it may be, is an indication of being false, according to this passage.
What kind of person would never say these words? What kind of person would never try and impress Jesus with their ministry? Someone who understands Kingdom life, a Beatitude person.
Often people fall into the trap of confusing ministry with being spiritual. They believe that because they are involved in some kind of ministry then they must be all right. Yet, many people get involved in a ministry to meet needs within them as they may have a hidden agenda. If you were to take their ministry away from them, their whole life would fall apart, for their ministry has taken the place of God in their lives.
Sometimes we need to ask God to take our ministry from us so that we can find Him. Those who have a fear of loosing their ministry, are the people who need to loose it.
You can be involved in ministry for God, and yet not be known by God.
Jesus said "I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you."
When Jesus said these words, He spoke words that sounded familiar to His Jewish audience – especially to the Rabbis and their students.
The Jewish writings tell us of a time when a student said or did something wrong, a very scholarly Rabbi said to him, "I never knew you." Upon saying that he did not speak to the student for a period of 30 days. He gave his student the silent treatment, the cold shoulder.
Now note what Jesus did not say. He didn’t say “you never knew me” but “I never knew you. Surely Jesus is God, surely he knows all things, so how can he say that He doesn’t know us?
When Jesus says ‘I will tell them plainly’, he uses a very strong word, which means to confess, or give thanks. What Jesus says here is an honest assessment of our relationship with him.
What does it mean for God not to know us?
Surely God is Omniscient, so how can he say to these people, “I never knew you.” He is not saying “I know nothing about you.” We all know certain things about others but we don’t know them in a personal way. Jesus is saying to these people who have found their life in their ministry, “You have never really opened up your heart to me.”
What kind of person finds it difficult to open up and become completely vulnerable? The person who is not broken, who is not poor in spirit. If God does not know us, it is our fault. We must be totally honest and open before him.
Lack of Worship prevents God from knowing us.
It is interesting to notice what these people did not say. There were no expressions of gratitude, joy or worship, and their whole emphasis was on what they were doing. ‘Did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles,’
When the emphasis of our lives is on what we do, worship becomes unlikely.
These people were guilty of sanitised idolatry. When a person struggles with worship, that struggle is always the consequences of idolatry. If we have a heart that is looking for life outside of Jesus, we are going to find some reason to justify our lack of worship.
These people could not worship Jesus when they met him face to face, because they never worshipped him before they met him. If worship is not a priority in this life, then it will not be a priority in the 'next life.'
This passage redefines the will of God for our lives.
"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.”
God's will is that he knows us.
God's will is that worship must always take the priority over ministry.
God's will is that we remove all our sheep’s clothing.
God's will is that we be honest open people, with no hidden agenda.
How will Jesus respond to these people? He says that they are evildoers. What makes the deeds (both good and evil ones) "lawless" is not disobedience to some law (the Pharisees worked hard to obey all the laws), but what is in the heart i.e. the motivations for those actions. Ministry that is not a reflection of our fellowship with God is unacceptable, even if it appears to be effective.
Some questions we need to ask
Are we satisfied with our relationship with God in the present?
Are we looking for life in something, rather in having an intimate experience of God?
What idol has robbed us of our passion for God?
Has worship ceased to be a priority in our lives?
Can we identify some of the sheep’s clothing we have been wearing?
Some Practical steps we must take in order to open our lives up more to God.
We need to pray differently about ourselves. Can you identify an attitude or a motive in your heart you have never prayed about? We are inclined to pray about external things. God will only know us when we open our hearts to him.
Is there anything in your life that has become a source of life or identity? Maybe you think if I loose this ministry, or if I loose this job, or family, life for me would be pointless. We need God to change our attitudes to these things. When Jesus becomes our only reason for living, then we have the freedom to enjoy these other things.
We need God to teach us the importance of worship. False prophets cannot take the worship of Jesus seriously. If we do not understand the importance of worship, then we need to ask some serious questions about what is in our hearts.