Matthew 7:21-29

To Know You More

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

If John 3:16 is one of our all-time favorite verses of scripture, Matthew 7:21 has to be one of our least favorites:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven;
but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 7:21)

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to give me some sleepless nights.

As we take a closer look at this troubling passage, I’d like to emphasize the positive, and that is: The more we come to know Jesus Christ, the more we experience the promise of eternal life. Let’s take it from the top:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven;
but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 7:21)

Obviously, there were those in Jesus’ day who were able to do some pretty remarkable things. They were able to prophesy and cast out demons and pull rabbits out of hats. And so he warned his disciples,“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

He made it clear: There’s more to being a Christian than bearing the name Jesus. Paying lip service to Jesus won’t cut it. This comes out in the next two verses:

“Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord,
didn’t we prophesy in your name,
in your name cast out demons,
and in your name do many mighty works?’
Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you.
Depart from me, you who work iniquity.'”
(Matthew 7:22-23)

The key is the verb, to know. In the Bible, to know someone is to have an intimate relationship with them. In Genesis, when the angels of the Lord went to Sodom to rescue Lot, the men of Sodom came to the door and said, “Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” (Gen. 19:5) They intended to sexually assault them. In the story of Jesus’ birth, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he was going to call the whole thing off, but he had a dream in which God spoke to him and explained that the child in Mary’s womb was none other than the son of God. Then Matthew says,

“Joseph arose from his sleep,
and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,
and took his wife to himself;
and didn’t know her sexually until she had brought forth her firstborn son.
He named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25)

To know someone means much more than to know about someone. It’s to know them through and through, to share a close, intimate bond. In this sense Pharaoh was telling the truth when he told Moses and Aaron,

“Who is Yahweh, that I should listen to his voice to let Israel go?
I don’t know Yahweh,
and moreover I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

This was what led to the downfall of Israel after the death of Joshua. Scripture says,

“…All that generation (Joshua’s) were gathered to their fathers
(in other words, they died):
and there arose another generation after them,
who didn’t know Yahweh,
nor yet the work which he had worked for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)

When Samuel was just a young boy he heard God’s voice calling his name, but he thought it was the old priest Eli because, as scripture says,

“Now Samuel didn’t yet know Yahweh,
neither was the word of Yahweh yet revealed to him.”
(1 Samuel 3:7)

I could go on, but you get the point: We are invited to share a close, personal relationship with none other than God himself! God wants us to know him, and the best way to know God is through his son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father, except through me.
If you had known me,
you would have known my Father also.
From now on, you know him, and have seen him.”
(John 14:6-7)

So, how can we get to know Jesus better? The first is to become thoroughly familiar with what he said. The gospels are filled with Jesus’ teaching, and the more we study his teaching, the more we’re able to share the mind of Christ.

When I was first entering seminary the dean welcomed us and gave us a piece of advice: “Read your professors’ books.” If you want to know how someone thinks, what they believe, what makes them tick, read – or, as least listen to – what they have to say. In much the same way, listening to Jesus’ voice in scripture helps us to know him more intimately. For example, you’ll find that Jesus was gentle, not overbearing. He said things like,

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

He was not one to impose himself on others, but to graciously invite them to come into his presence. He said,

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will come in to him,
and will dine with him,
and he with me.”
(Revelation 3:20)

He was sympathetic and understanding. Scripture says,

“Jesus came out, saw a great multitude,
and he had compassion on them,
because they were like sheep without a shepherd,
and he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)

He was forgiving. A woman was brought to him who had been caught in the very act of adultery.  The religious leaders asked him whether or not she should be stoned to death, and he responded and said,“He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her,” and they all went away. Then he said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.” (John 8:1-11) He taught his disciples to forgive each other, not seven times, as the law prescribed, but “seventy times seven” – as many times as necessary. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Above all, Jesus was loving. He said,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Matthew 22:37-39)

For Jesus, this was the first and greatest of the commandments. He taught his disciples to love one another,as he had loved them. (John 15:12) He also taught them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. (Matthew 5:44)

He could be critical, to be sure, especially when it came to matters of false piety and self-righteousness.

For example, he said,

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.
For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged;
and with whatever measure you measure,
it will be measured to you.”
(Matthew 7:1-2)

He overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, saying,

“My house shall be called a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of robbers!”
(Matthew 21:13)

His most scathing words were directed to the scribes and Pharisees. He said,

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat.
For they bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne,
and lay them on men’s shoulders;
but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them.”
(Matthew 23:2,4)

And he went on to say,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful,
but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
(Matthew 23:27)

Yes, Jesus could be harsh, but, for the most part, he was gracious and kind and understanding, never ceasing to share the Good News of God’s love with others. Even from the Cross, he told the repentant thief who hung beside him,

“Assuredly I tell you, today
you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)

But don’t take my word for it. Read the gospels for yourself. Make a list of all Jesus’ teachings. Put them in categories, if you like. Write your favorites on note cards and stick them up on your refrigerator door. The point is do everything you can to become familiar with this man, Jesus Christ. Get to know him, through and through.

Then follow his example. Let his teachings be your discipline for how you live out your life each day. After all, this is what it means to be a disciple – to be disciplined. To be disciples of Jesus Christ is to be disciplined by his teaching and example.

Recently I heard a preacher tell about going to a big conference while he was in seminary. He said he was talking with one of the conference leaders and, when he told the leader where he was going to seminary, the leader asked him if he had taken any classes from a particular professor. He said, “Why, yes, he’s one of my favorites.” And the leader said, “Mine too. Tell him I said hello. When he got back to the seminary, he couldn’t wait to tell his professor who he’d met, but the professor didn’t recognize the name. He thought for a moment, then said, “He may have sat in my class, but, I can tell you, he was no student of mine.”

To know Jesus is to be one of his disciples, and to be a disciple is to be disciplined by his teaching; to take what you know and put into practice.

I don’t know if any of you still wear the little W.W.J.D. bracelets, but it wouldn’t hurt if you did, to ask yourself in every situation and circumstance you face, “What would Jesus do?” And not only to ask, but to do it – to the best of your ability, to respond to others in the way you think Jesus would respond if he were in the same situation.

To know Jesus is to be a disciple, and to be a disciple is to be disciplined by his teaching – to do what he would do in every situation and circumstance. Again, listen to what he said:

“You are the light of the world…
let your light shine before men;
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:14, 16)

“If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar,
and there remember that your brother has anything against you,
leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.
First be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.”
(Matthew 5:23-24)

“Don’t swear at all: neither by heaven…nor by the earth…
But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’
Whatever is more than these is of the evil one.”
(Matthew 5:34-37)

“…whoever strikes you on your right cheek,
turn to him the other also.”
(Matthew 5:39)

“Give to him who asks you,
and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.”

(Matthew 5:42)

“Love your enemies…
and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you”
(Matthew 5:44)

The gospels are filled with Jesus’ teaching. Learn from him and let him guide your life. And along the way, enjoy his company. And this is what I’d like to leave you with: Jesus Christ is not just some historical figure, but a living presence in the world today, and to know him is to recognize him in the faces of others and to feel his peace and joy and love.

Children joining the Presbyterian Church used to have to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It’s a series of questions and answers, and the first one goes like this:

“What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to know God and enjoy him forever.”

Say that to yourself, over and over, and make it personal: “My chief end in life is to know God and to enjoy him forever.”

God wants us to know him and enjoy his company, and the best way to know God is through his son, Jesus Christ. Study his teachings in the gospels. Read them for yourself. Then put them into practice. Be disciplined by what he said and did. And, along the way, enjoy his company. Feel his presence. Sing his praise. Share with him freely your joys and concerns. For the promise for those who know him and love him and follow him in faith is nothing less than eternal life.

I’d like to close with a song, and I invite you to sing it with me. It goes like this:

To know you in all of your glory,
To love you with all that I am.
With all of my heart, Lord, this is my prayer:

To know you more.
To know you in all of your power,
To trust you with all that I am.
With all of my heart, Lord, this is my prayer:

To know you more.
To know you in all of your mercy,
To serve you with all that I am.
With all of my heart, Lord, this is my prayer:
To know you more, to know you more.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Copyright 2005, Philip W. McLarty.  Used by permission.

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.