18th February 2013

“We’ve Never Met”

“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, 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 7:22-23 (NIV)

Here and there among the Gospels, you come upon an unexpectedly stern warning from Jesus. “I never knew you” is one of the most shocking. For this passage is not about people who refuse to believe in Jesus or who are cynically attacking, subverting and exploiting those who do. These are people who have always declared Jesus ‘Lord’, who genuinely think that they belong to him and who have reason to believe that they have been instrumental in God-given prophecy, spiritual victories, healings and other miracles. They stand before Jesus at the last day, bewildered, trying to plead what they consider the ultimate proof of conversion:  miraculous deeds.

You might expect Jesus to say “I never knew you” to people who are reluctant, maybe overcautious, about whom and what they will believe, rejecting signs that they don’t consider reliable. But he didn’t. Even when his disciples refused to believe the early news of his resurrection, he rebuked but did not reject them (Mark 16:14-15).

This passage leads into the well-known parable of the wise and foolish builders, in which two houses, probably similar in outward appearance, undergo the same bad weather, and one of them crumbles because its foundation is lacking. “These words of mine”—the teachings of his Sermon on the Mount—are what Jesus gives as the necessary foundation: submission to God, inner obedience to righteous principles, unconditional love, sincerity in prayer and other observances, trust in God, etc. Visitations and manifestations are not stated as foundational to Christian living. They are not even stated as the backbone of Christian development (2 Peter 1:3-11).

If spectacular signs are the best support for belief, why did ancient Israel falter, and why didn’t Jesus praise Thomas’ faith (John 20:29)? If involvement in miraculous events proves that someone is closer to God, then Saul (1 Samuel 19:23-24), Balaam (2 Peter 2:15) and even Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:28) must be a cut above the rest of us spiritually.

In Jesus’ own words, the “fruits”—honourable characteristics of the heart—are better evidence of who someone is than miraculous works (Matthew 7:15-20). In Paul’s words, while supernatural gifts are well worth asking for, there is a better way still (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Prayer
Holy God, I pray for this miracle: to know you–to recognise and understand you. And then please do what you like.
Amen

Study by Fiona Jones

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