Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (St. Matthew 7:21).
In today’s Gospel, we are warned of the consequences which flow from ignoring the perfect love and justice Our Lord reveals in the Sermon on the Mount. There is, of course, a long tradition of men and women who claim to be the people of God ignoring His true prophets. Jeremiah, hand picked by God from within his mother’s womb, courageously and passionately called for God’s people to repent and return to the Lord only to be beaten, publicly humiliated, dragged through the streets, jailed and eventually murdered in a foreign land. Isaiah was chosen to proclaim the glorious inbreaking of God’s new heaven and new earth made visible through the coming Messiah only to be sawed in half by his own people, and the list goes on and on. In rebuking the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus calls them ‘…the sons of those who murdered the prophets’ (St. Matthew 23:31). He then warns them, ‘Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth…’ (Matthew 23:34-35).
As in the sending of Isaiah and Jeremiah, there is an inherent judgment being ladled out upon those who respond to hearing God’s saving truth with hatred or ambivalence; there is a sense here in which if we are hearing the warnings of God, we are then hearing the crimes and charges of our rebellious, sinful race laid out before us so that we may either know our cursed status as the damned or repent and live as God demands. In the divine realm of eternal justice and everlasting life, it is the murdered, persecuted, or ignored prophet of God who is triumphant, not the king or governor (or self-regarding, middle class American) who foolishly walks away from God’s warnings to trust in his own wisdom and common sense. What does St. Paul write to the Corinthians: ‘For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Prudence is an admirable virtue when dealing with the corrupted goods of this fallen world; it is madness when God reaches His hand from eternity to save us from the swirling waters of death.
And it is in this perilous space of infinite consequences where we ultimately find ourselves, as Christ says directly before today’s reading, two gates lie before us: one narrow and confined leading to eternal life, the other wide and easy leading to destruction, ‘For the gate is narrow and the way hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.’ (St. Matthew 7:14). Even within the intense comfort and joy which abounds throughout the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord wants us to equally understand the pain and hardship which will inevitably come from following Him to war against evil. He must continually remind us that the life-saving religion which has a crucified man as its ultimate sign of triumph is not a religion of comfort and ease in the face of evil; it is a way of life in which we are to see God’s blessing most clearly when we are persecuted and rejoice when evil strikes us–precisely because it is in this life of suffering that we are united with the crucified Christ, united with the prophets who came before Him, and united to all the men and women whose sign of faith in the promises of God was a death to this world and its lies (Matthew 5:10-12).
Which brings us to the question, Why then would anyone possibly choose to either murder God’s prophets or ignore them, and in turn, murder themselves? As Jesus says today, ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’ (St. Matthew 7:15). The terror of this imagery should strike right to our hearts. Christ is describing a creature which looks like a Christian, but instead of being a sheep in the church’s pasture, he is a sheep’s worst enemy: a hungry wolf who will only be satisfied by not merely our destruction, but by gaining from our destruction, by tearing us apart until we are no longer a recognizable image bearer of God but merely an object to be consumed and digested. We usually think of men in authority when we imagine this monstrous creature; we think of greedy televangelists or priest who prey on young boys, but much more dangerous than these figures of obvious moral debasement are the characters who fill pulpits and pews with their lies and half-truths. The people who say things like, ‘God’s love is whatever I say it is,’ or ‘Be true to your heart and everything will turn out fine,’ or ‘Nothing really matters except loving yourself and being happy’ and on and on. Have you ever asked yourself, what does a person have to gain from saying these evil, banal lies to another person? Of course people say them because they simply know these memorized nonsense phrases better than the life-saving truth of God’s Word, but they originate and are evangelistically spread by those who wish to use us and destroy us for money or sex or power. All of the bad advice and circular logic we are given by false prophets so that we might feel better about joining them in sin will never save us or anyone, in fact, quite the opposite. I heard a celebrity bravely attack the horror of pornography in America last week, and he was met with the phrase, ‘Shame kills.’ The idea being that it is worth having the government protected slavery which pornography promotes and monetizes so that someone might not feel guilty about his participation in it. The sheep’s clothing is the idea that this person actually cares about someone else dying while the wolf greedily destroys the lives of the women and men tormented and subjugated in the name of freedom.
We know these false prophets ultimately serve evil because they drive men away from the narrow gate; the narrow gate which is Christ. As our Lord tells us, ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep’ (St. John 10:9-11). Here lies the true reason why we must flee from the voices of the thieves and robbers who wish to steal us from the Lord: the false shepherds and woolen-suited wolves will never lay down their lives for us; the fruit they bear will never be the sacrificial love most perfectly witnessed in the Cross of Christ.
What we must see, what is so hard for us to see, is that this fruit is not success as measured in the eyes of the world: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 21:23). We see in the intimacy of the phrase ‘Lord, Lord’ that having a so-called ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus is no substitute for actually being a child of God, and any man or woman who dares call God ‘Father’ must understand from where our adoption into the family of God came. It is the loving obedience of the Son, even to the death of the Cross, which makes us ‘…heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.’
And so, it is the men and women who live in loving obedience to the Father who reveal themselves to be the children of grace; it is the bearers of salt and light in their humble and sincere love of God who matter infinitely more than all the devils cast out of men or all the incredible wonders worked before the eyes of the world. It simply doesn’t matter how holy the world thinks we are if we are not the people described in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5); if we are not the people blessed in those words of the Living God then we are nothing.
Let us then take a hard, long look at the relationships in our lives. Is it more important for us to be on good terms with the wolves we know than to live a holy life centered around a lived-out thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us? Do we look at the Beatitudes hungering and thirsting for the blessings of God, or do we settle for the putrid lies the wolves use to lure us back to their dens? Let it never be so.
Knowing then, the seriousness of our Lord’s words, may we always pray that we would be a truly blessed people. A people who are blessed by Christ through and in His sacrifice, a people who ‘suffer with Him that we may be also glorified together.’