Summary: This sermon challenges listeners to ask themselves whether they know God and whether they are known by him
I wonder if you have ever heard this said: “God is love; and because God is love every single person on this planet will have a resting place in heaven. God will welcome all people into heaven because he is love. God will not turn anyone away from the gates of heaven; because God is love.”
I wonder if you agree with that. Is it really true that God will welcome into heaven the child abuser who is not at all sorry for what he did? Is it really true that God will welcome into heaven the men who gladly and willingly carried out the genocide in Rwanda and who are still convinced that they were right to murder, rape and pillage? Is it really true that God will welcome into heaven people who are openly and gladly evil? Is it really true that God will welcome into heaven the man or the woman who does not even want to be in heaven? If any of those were true, then God would not be God. The answers are all “No!”
Yes God is love (1 John 4:16); yes God is more forgiving than you or I could ever be; yes God is full of compassion (Isaiah 54:7-8); yes God is slow to anger; but God does get angry; and God is angry towards evil that is plain for all to see. God does not turn a blind eye towards evil, regardless of how big (or small) an evil or wrongful act may be. In other words, a lot of evil is very obvious, apparent; clear for all to see. If a bottle of liquid is poisonous and it has a label saying it is poisonous then it is clearly not to be drunk.
A lot of evil is plainly evil, but in our Bible reading we have just heard Jesus talking about evil that is hidden. As is often the case, the words of Jesus cause us to sit up and listen up and sometimes to clean up! Jesus said (Mt 7:21), “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.” Our reaction might well to be to ask, “Is that me?”
I am not going to stand here and say, “Don’t worry! Jesus didn’t mean you and he didn’t mean me! Don’t worry! Everything is going to be OK because God is love.” I will not say that, because if I did then I would be like the false prophets that Jesus referred to in our Bible reading (7:15). If I did then I would be like a ferocious wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, and it is probably the most dangerous kind of ‘cross dressing’!
Jesus said (7:22-23), “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!’”
Religious terrorists who murder people and claim to have done it in the name of God are clearly evil – they are wolves dressed as wolves; but Jesus wants us to be on our guard and watchful because some ‘wolves’ are dressed as sheep.
Thankfully Jesus has not left us guessing. He has given us a measuring device, and he points us to the garden to find it. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognise them” (7:16 and 7:20); and he said this: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (7:18). Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t produce figs.
Jesus is saying that there will come a future day when he will deal with wolves who are dressed up as sheep; in other words Jesus has promised to deal with hidden evil. Jesus knows about it and he will deal with it. On Thursday night here at Christ Church the Riding Lights Theatre Company helped us to think about some of the corporate evil that exists in our world; countries where big companies claim that clean water is available for everyone when in reality it can cost 9 months salary for a poor family to actually get connected to a water pipe which runs near to where they live: Corporate evil.
Jesus will judge corporate evil, but he definitely wants us to do something about it now; “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” and that’s from the Old Testament book of Micah (6:8), a book in which God condemns false prophets and leaders who lead his people astray (Micah 3:1-5).
Some evil is obvious. Some evil is hidden and Jesus has promised to deal with it; but in the meantime we are told to look at the fruit. So you should be encouraged to look at my ‘tree’! That doesn’t mean sneaking in to my back garden to see if I’ve cut the grass or to count how many delicious apples I’ve got left on the Vicarage apple tree (!) but it does mean prayerfully checking whether there is fruit on my ‘tree’ or not. If my ‘tree’ is completely barren, bearing only thorns, despite my claims to be a follower of Jesus, then you would have cause for great concern, because not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).