The Worst Words in All the Bible
Dr. Jim Denison
Janet has been out of town this week at a writer’s conference, so I’ve been cooking. So far we’ve had Italian, Chinese, and Mexican—whatever we can order in or eat out. Janet used to cook and stock the refrigerator if she was going to be gone, with sticky notes telling me how long to heat up everything. But when she returned, everything was precisely where she left it. She’s learned better.
She’s lucky if I’ve brought in the mail once or twice, and maybe even run the dishwasher. I am domestically challenged. She married me out of pity, and not much has changed.
If you don’t know how to do something, it’s important that you know someone who does. Someone who can fix your roof or your car, someone who can perform your surgery or calculate your taxes.
These days we’re working with the subject, “Knowing That You Know.” We’re learning how to be sure that we know God and that he knows us. Because none of us knows how to get to heaven. None of us knows how to get our sins forgiven, our hearts transformed, our lives filled with joy and peace and purpose. If we think we can do all that ourselves, today’s text is for us.
So far we’ve learned what salvation is. Today we’ll learn what it is not. And why the subject is crucial beyond all description.
Don’t trust in right words
“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” (v. 21).
“Lord” translates kurios, the Greek word for “master.” The Romans required their subjects to bow the knee before a bust of Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord,” “Caesar kuriou.” Jesus’ followers refused, saying instead, “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesu kuriou.”
To say it twice is to give the word intensity. The Jews didn’t use superlatives like we do—they repeated words for emphasis. The idea here is “really Lord” or “Lord of Lords.”
“Not everyone” shows that some who say this will enter the kingdom of heaven.
To say that Jesus is your Lord is to say that he is your Master, your Savior and King. This is precisely the profession of faith we make at baptism: “Jesus is my Lord.”
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, quoting Joel 2:32). But “call on” means more than words—it reflects trust, commitment, reliance.
And not everyone who uses these words means them like that. Not everyone who knows the right words knows the right Lord. If you say you’re a Rotarian, you probably are. If you say that you support President Bush or Senator Kerry, you probably do. If you say you’re a Christian, you may or may not be.
In our culture, a “Christian” is a good person who believes in God. Most Americans don’t even know that there’s more to the term than that. Most don’t even know that they need to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and become their Savior and Lord. Most use “Christian” without any concept of its biblical meaning.
C. S. Lewis likens the word to “gentleman.” At one time, “gentleman” referred specifically to a man who was part of the landed gentry, a landowner who occupied a specific place in society. But over time the word evolved to mean a person who acts as a “gentleman” once did, who conducts himself with decorum and dignity. And now the word applies to everyone, whether we own land or not. It’s gone from nobility to bathroom doors.
In the same way, “Christian” originally meant “little Christ,” one who follows and imitates Jesus. It was a pejorative term, and was applied only to those who had experienced a personal relationship with Jesus.
Today “Christian” is an ethical term which refers to good people who believe in God. So nearly everyone says that the word applies to them. In that sense, nearly everyone in America calls Jesus “Lord, Lord.”
Raise your hand if you say you’re a Christian. Now be warned—this text may be about you.
Don’t trust in right works
Next Jesus lists the two most persuasive religious actions a person could perform in his day: prophecy and miracles. First, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?”
Again the right words, “Lord, Lord.”
For the right purpose: “in your name.”
“Prophesy” in the Bible doesn’t mean to foretell the future so much as it means to forth tell the word of God.
Jesus means here what we would call “preaching.” He’s referring to people like me—a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a seminary or college professor, a spiritual writer, someone who communicated his word through their words. He’s warning us that we can speak his words in his name, and not know him. Just because I’m your pastor, speaking these words to you today, don’t mean I know him.
A new pastor saw a meeting at his church one evening. He asked a man walking toward the sanctuary what it was about. The man said, “I’m just a visitor, but I came at the invitation of a friend. They’re meeting to pray for the spiritual conversion of their new pastor.” He came into the meeting, and gave his heart to Christ.
Not everyone who preaches or teaches God’s word knows God.
Jesus continues: “…and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”
Again, “in your name,” for his glory and credit. “Drive out demons” refers to exorcism of evil spirits. “Perform many miracles” means just what it says—healings and unexplainable physical phenomena.
Apparently it’s possible to drive out demons without knowing Jesus. Apparently it’s possible to be involved in miraculous healings and works without knowing Jesus. I could be an exorcist or a faith healer without knowing Jesus. I could lead the lost to Christ, build great churches, do great mission work, lead great benevolent and Christian institutions, but not know Jesus.