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Saying and Doing - Matthew 7:21-27

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 7th May 2000.

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A few weeks ago I went to a wedding with Harry Enfield. I’ll say that again so you can take in the impressiveness of my social calendar. A few weeks ago I went to a wedding with Harry Enfield. For those of you who don't know, Harry Enfield is a comedian on the BBC. Harry and I went to the service together, watched the photos together, he had his photo taken with the bride and groom, we went to the reception together, smirked at the best man’s speech together and drank champagne together. Yes it was the real Harry Enfield; he was a cousin of the groom. But did I chat with him, did I discuss the current state of the BBC’s broadcasting policies with him? No. Did I comment on the bride’s dress with him? No. Did I share a joke with him? No. Did I speak to him at all? No. Even make eye contact? No. Appearances can be deceptive! Yes I did stand about two yards from him when he was next in line to congratulate the bride. But that was as far as I got. Yes in one sense I went to a wedding with Harry Enfield, but in another sense I did not! Appearances can be deceptive.

Well in our passage for today Jesus is coming to the end of his Sermon on the Mount. He’s actually finished the main bulk of the Sermon and is now applying it directly to his hearers. And he’s left the punch to the end. He finishes with a real sting in the tail. In the last few verses before our passage, Jesus has been outlining two different responses to his message. There are two ways we can travel, two different types of tree we can be, two claims we can make and two types of builder we can be. And throughout, the contrast is between a right response to Jesus and a wrong response to Jesus. And in the passage we are studying Jesus paints two pictures for us. There is first the person who says a lot but does not act, and second the person who hears a lot but does not act. And really the point is the same in both. Unless you act on what Jesus has said, you will find yourself going to hell. That’s how strong Jesus is in the last few verses of his sermon. He doesn’t end with a cosy story about a sheep or being kind to people. He says that the way we respond to what he has said determines our eternal destiny. Now that’s quite a sting isn’t it?

You see appearances can be deceptive. Many people say that they are Christians, but Jesus says they are not Christians at all. And the reason he ends this way is not to get our backs up, not to finish with a flurry for the sake of it. Rather he loves us and wants us to be sure we‘re going to heaven. But he doesn’t want any of us here to have false assurance. He wants none of us to be self-deceived and blind to the truth. He loves us, so he tells us it straight.

So we’ll look at these two passages together and we’ll see that although Jesus’ basic point is the same that we must do what Jesus says, yet there are two slightly different ways of deceiving ourselves which Jesus highlights.

1) The Danger of being all Mouth (vv 21-23)

2) The Danger of being all Ears (vv 24-27)

 

1) The Danger of being all Mouth (vv 21-23)

Have a look at verses 21-23: "Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, 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!" Now at first sight these people look very impressive. First of all they are very sound. They say "Lord, Lord". They’ve got the jargon right. They know that Jesus is the Lord and so they call him by his correct name. They may be the sort of people who read a lot of Christian books, they will have done the evangelism training course and perhaps even a Moore Correspondence course. I’m sure they will be regulars at Word Alive and may even be thinking of joining Reform. They have all the right orthodox credentials. And not only are they sound, but they are also very fervent. "Lord, Lord" they cry, "did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many miracles." They’ve got it all. They are at every meeting, they are very gifted, they’ve put themselves on all the rotas going. And it’s all done, they say, in Jesus’ name. Notice how that crops up twice here. Actually in the original it crops up three times. In your name....in your name....in your name. We did it all for you Jesus. No-one can deny they are both sound in their theology and keen. Very impressive. But what about Jesus? What does he have to say?

Well notice where all this comes to light. Jesus says in verse 22 that it will be "on that day." In other words on that day of judgement everything will become clear. The masks will be taken off, and who will be the judge? Jesus himself. And then after their profession of soundness and fervency, comes Jesus’ own profession. "I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers." I don't think there can be any more horrific words in the Bible than those. For Jesus to say to someone who really thought they had made it, "I never knew you". It’s a spine chilling thought isn’t it? Where did they go wrong? Did they not read enough books, were they not fervent enough? No the problem is the heart. Verse 21. It’s not enough to say it, we must act it. Only he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of God.

The problem was that they were all mouth and no action. It’s very easy to talk a good game. I’ll let you into a little secret. I am the nation’s best armchair referee. When I am watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night, I never make a wrong decision, I always give a correct penalty, I am always right in sending people off and my word is never wrong. All those Premiership referees haven’t got a clue. But what if someone were to say to me, why not referee Manchester Utd v Liverpool in the Cup Final next week. How would I do? I can talk a great game, but when it comes to doing it, I wouldn’t have a hope. And sadly many Christians, and notice that is Jesus’ word in verse 22, talk a great game. But when it comes to it they are all mouth and no action. And that Jesus warns us is a very dangerous position to be in. Rather as someone once put it, we need to walk out talk.

So how do we do that, what does it mean to do the will of God? Well Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 11 that he has come to reveal the will of God, so doing God’s will is obeying the teaching of Jesus. And Jesus has just been explaining a whole chunk of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Quite simply doing God’s will means living life the way God intended. And he’s shown us that way in the Bible. A good question to ask ourselves is this: "Is the Lordship of Christ one of my life’s major priorities?" Or to put it another way, Am I seriously interested in trying with God’s help to live his way every day of my life?" If not then we are in danger of being all mouth but no action. So are we doing God’s will? How is it affecting my marriage, my work, my family life, my language, my thought-life, my sex life, my hobbies, the way I use my time, the way I give my money. The list is endless. Every area of life is to be put under the Lordship of Christ when we become Christians. Perhaps another way to put it is to ask ourselves if we were arrested for the crime of being a Christian, would the prosecutor have enough evidence to prosecute? If he went through the different areas of our lives would he see that Christ is clearly Lord. OK there may be the odd inconsistency here and there, but generally there should be no doubt where we stand. Could they find that? Well that’s exactly how it will be on judgement day. Will we be all mouth, or will there be some evidence of action, a life lived under the Lordship of Christ?

Now you may be thinking, hang on isn’t this all a bit like salvation by works. Doing lots of good things to try and impress God. Well no not at all. No Christian worth their salt would ever believe they could con God into thinking they were good enough for him. We’re never good enough for God, that’s why Jesus died on the cross, so that he could do the saving. We are certainly not saved by works. But we are saved for works, that is our lives lived after we have trusted Christ show that we are really going his way. We live life longing to please him as forgiven people. And lives where there is no evidence show that there was never a new start in the first place.

Now it may be that you are a student who is about to leave Hull and go into the big wide world to find a job. Well let me ask, who will you live for when you are there? Yourself or your Lord. You see there will be no point saying on judgement day to Jesus, "I went to Fes when I was a student, I knew Derek French and read the Bible with him, I attended St. John’s for three years." Those are all great things. But again don't let yourself be deceived. Put that talk into action by following Christ seriously after university. You cannot live on the spiritual capital of previous years. Where you are with Christ now is what matters. Or maybe you are from a Christian home and you’ve got all the right understanding. You also say, Lord Lord. You know the Bible well, and you can talk a good game, but have you yourself committed your life to Christ. Do you know him personally? Don't be all mouth. Get it sorted tonight.

The danger of being all mouth. It’s a danger each one of us could fall into. And it’s stopped by doing the will of the Father. Martin Lloyd Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the last century. And in his commentary on these verses he quotes a story about William Wilberforce, who was from Hull. A woman came up to Wilberforce one day at the height of his campaign against slavery and said "Mr Wilberforce, what about the soul?" And Wilberforce turned to her and said: "Madam, I had almost forgotten I had a soul!" Lloyd-Jones then goes on: "After you have attended your meetings, after you have dealt with your apologetics, and displayed your wonderful knowledge of theology and the Bible, I still ask you: What about your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ? You may know a great deal more than you did a year ago, but do you know him better? You may denounce more things, but do you love him more? Is the fruit of the Spirit more and more manifest in your life? Those are the questions." The Danger of Being all Mouth.

 

2) The Danger of being all Ears (vv 24-27)

But there is a second danger and that is the danger of being all ears. Let’s read verses 24-27: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose and the wind blew against that house and yet it did not fall, because it had its foundations on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, the winds beat against that house and it fell with a great crash."

Let me introduce you to two men. Ernie Wise and Eric Fool. Ernie wanted to build a new house. He had just floated his Internet company on the stock market and made millions. He was a happy man. So he built a huge house with swimming pool, helipad and 9 hole golf course. He was living in the lap of luxury. Eric had also had a lucky break. His brother had just been on Who wants to be a millionaire and won. His brother had phoned Eric on the last question and Eric had got the question right, so they shared the prize money. Eric’s house was just as glamorous as Ernie’s down the road- swimming pool, helipad and 9 hole golf course. Ernie and Eric were pretty much identical. Same lifestyle, same houses, same location. But then one night a huge storm broke out. It was the most ferocious in living memory and it caused a torrent of water to wash down the valley and hit both houses full on. But when the storm had eased and morning broke, the two houses could not have been more different. Ernie Wise’s house was still intact. There was a bit of flood damage on the walls, the golf course would have to be redone, but apart from that the house was fine. But next-door was nowhere to be seen. Eric Fool’s house had completely disappeared. All that was left was the remnants of the tennis court and a couple of bottles of Dom Perginon floating down the stream. And the reason? Ernie had asked a surveyor for advise. The surveyor had told him to dig deep foundations since that area was sometimes liable to flooding. Ernie’s house was built on a solid foundation. Eric didn’t bother. He thought it would never happen. But it did.

So why did Jesus tells us this story. Well he tells us in verse 24. The wise man is the one who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice. He is the one who has a solid foundation when the storms come. You see if verses 21 -23 contrast saying and doing, then these verses contrast hearing and doing. The wise man hears and does. The fool hears and ignores. The advice goes in one ear and out the other. And notice that doing Jesus’ words provides a foundation for life. The storms are certainly those things which happen to us during life. We can get through them trusting in Jesus. But more importantly, putting Jesus’ words into practice sees us through the ultimate storm of judgement day. If we have taken Jesus seriously and followed him then he will not be ashamed of us at judgement day. He will not turn to us and say "I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers." Rather he will say, "well done good and faithful servant". That’s just how important it is to both hear and do Jesus’ words. Because they relate to life and death, eternal life and death. You see now why Jesus calls people fools who ignore his words. The word he uses is a very strong word. It’s more like idiot. We get the word moron from it. You’re a fool if you ignore Jesus’ words, because he has the words of eternal life. He shows us God’s will. Build on those words and you build for eternity. Ignore them, and you ignore him at your peril. And of course the sting in the tail is that if you think you are OK, then you are in the biggest danger. The person who is complacent is in danger of being found out as a person who is all mouth and no action, all ears and no action.

So how do we build on the foundation of Jesus’ words. Well Jesus tells us. Verse 24: Listen to his word and put it into practice. Let me give you a very practical application. How do you apply sermons and Bible studies? Every Sunday and Wednesday, and other times as well, we come together and listen to God’s word taught and explained. Well how easy is it to let it go in one ear and out the other? I can think of countless times I have read the Bible and then shut it without a care in the world. But I’m in danger of being someone who is all ears. I hear but do not obey. Well what about getting into the habit of writing down one thing that you have learnt from the sermon or Bible study and then praying it through and thinking over it the next few mornings about how you can apply it to your life. That will stop you from becoming someone who hears but does not put into practice.

The apostle James has the amusing illustration of someone looking at a mirror and they see themselves all dishevelled and need their hair combed, they are unshaven and badly in need of a wash. But then having looked at themselves they immediately go away and forget about it. The comb lies untouched on the bathroom cabinet, the soap dry in the dish. That’s how daft the person is who reads the Bible and does nothing about it. You’re a fool says Jesus. If you really want to survive then you must put my word into practice, he says. So again, let me ask whose foundation will you build on. Your own or Jesus. Well if it is Jesus’ then it is a foundation that needs to be acted on, not ignored, otherwise we’re in danger of being all ears. When the storm of judgement comes, we’ll be exposed for the fools that we are.

You see the truth of these final two paragraphs of Jesus’ teaching is that neither a verbal profession nor an intellectual assent to Jesus will do. It is obedience that he requires. And if you think that obedience sounds very cold and callous, then remember Jesus’ word in John’s gospel. If you love me you will obey my commands. True love is seen in obedience. It is not enough to appear all keen and sound when in fact your life tells a different story. It is not enough to sit through sermons and Bible studies and let it go in one ear and out the other. Hearing Jesus’ words means that we must do them. I wonder if it has ever struck you that coming to church and reading the Bible are life threatening businesses. We know the truth, we hear it week in week out, and knowing the truth brings responsibility. So if you are not prepared to do the truth, then there’s no point turning up.

Wednesday 13th March 1991 saw one of Britain’s worst motorway crashes when ten people died and twenty-five injured. One man called Alan Bateman was hailed as a hero after he got out of his crashed car and went along the central reservation waving to drivers to slow down. Some drivers sounded their horns and no doubt thought he was a fool but they didn’t know what lay ahead of them.

Jesus only tells us these things because he loves us. It is perhaps the most fitting way to end a sermon. We must be doers of his words. It is very dangerous to be all mouth and all ears. And I guess there will be some suprises on judgement day as people’s hearts are shown for what they are. Many says Jesus will say Lord Lord, but he will say I never knew you. My prayer is that none in this congregation will be in that position. Each of us has heard the warning and we must ask God to give us the strength to put Jesus’ words into action. Yes appearances can be very deceptive, but they don't always have to be!


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