Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Matthew 7.21-29
Proper 4 - Year A

Other texts:


I will begin these notes with some general comments about the whole (expanded) section 7:13-29. Afterwards, I will make comments about each of the specific sayings in our assigned text.

CONTEXT

These verses are part of the conclusion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (7:13-27) and ends with the crowd's response to the sermon (vv. 28-29)

This section is composed of a number of sayings edited by Matthew. (Luke uses most of the sayings, but in two different locations.)

in Matthew............................................................................. parallel accounts
7:13-14 - The Two Ways................................................................................ Luke 13:24
7:15 - Sheep's Clothing................................................................................. no parallels
7:16-20 - By Their Fruit........................ Luke 6:43-45; (Mt 12:33-35); Thomas 45:1-4
7:21 - Invocation with Obedience.................................................................... Luke 6:46
7:22-23 - Get Away from Me.................................................................... Luke 13:26-27
7:24-27 - Two Foundations........................................................................ Luke 6:47-49

These sayings are connected in at least two ways: (1) they all present two (and only two) ways of living (contrasts stated [or implied] listed below; and (2) the word poieo or the idea of "doing" something (further notes on this to come).

STATED OR [IMPLIED] CONTRASTS OF THE TWO WAYS

narrow gate vs. wide gate
hard (restricted) way vs. easy way
life vs. destruction
few vs. many
[true prophets] vs. false prophets
[sheep on outside & on inside] vs. sheep on outside but wolves inside
good tree vs. rotten tree
good fruit vs. evil fruit
[saved] vs. cut down & thrown into the fire
some who say, "Lord, Lord" vs. others who say, "Lord, Lord"
doing the will of the Father vs. [not doing the will of the Father]
entering the kingdom of heaven vs. [not enter the kingdom of heaven]
some who act in the Lord's name vs. others who act in the Lord's name
[known by Jesus] vs. "I never knew you"
[come to me] vs. "Depart from me"
[bearing fruit?] vs. workers of lawlessness
wise man vs. foolish man
build house on rock vs. build house on sand
not fall in the storm vs. great fall in the storm
teaching with authority vs. [teaching without authority]

POIEO

This Greek word occurs 11 times in Matthew 7. The verses are below. The words the NRSV uses to translate poieo are in boldface.

7:12 In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

7:17-19 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

7:21-22 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father 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 deeds of power in your name?'

7:24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

7:26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

In all but one of these cases (7:22 - aorist), the verb is in the present tense. This implies continuous or repeated actions. To convey this, I will frequently translate the present with "helping" words: e.g., "is doing/bearing/acting," or "keeps on doing/bearing/acting" or "continues to do/bear/act".

This suggests that the "doing" is more of a way of life rather than an isolated deed. The "isolated deed" (aorist) occurrence is when those seeking to enter the kingdom tell the Lord about the many deeds of power they had done. They look back to what they had done sometime in the past (prophesied, cast out, and did).

All of us need to look at what we are doing now; not what we might have done, e.g., attended Sunday school class with a long string of perfect attendance pins, endured conformation classes, went to church camps, etc. A critique I've had of many personal testimonies and the way many people talk about their churches, is that they are centered on something God did for/through them in the past. What is God doing now? How is God involved in their life of faith now?

One point about the word poieo in these verses is that it is concerned about what one is doing in the present, not in the past. More points to come.

NOT KNOWN BY JESUS vv. 21-23

I looked at Matthew's use of the word kyrios, "Lord". Prior to this verse, it nearly always refers to God. In chapters 1-2, it only occurs in the phrase, "angel of the Lord" (1:20, 22, 24; 2:13, 15, 19). In 3:3, it is from the OT quote in reference to John's work: "Prepare the way of the Lord." (Originally this referred to God, but could be considered Jesus within this context.) In chapter 4, Jesus quotes scriptures, in reference to God as Lord in his battle with Satan (4:7, 10). 5:33 talks about vows made to the Lord. In 6:24 Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters (or lords); for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

So, what does it mean if someone says to Jesus, "Lord, Lord"? Later, this will become a confessional statement: "Jesus is Lord" (see 1 Cor 12:3). This text strongly suggests that just knowing the right words is not enough.

Matthew will have a number of people addressing Jesus as Lord in the next chapter: (8:2, 6, 8, 21, 25). However, they are not asking for entrance into the kingdom. They do not tell about their wonderful deeds in Jesus' name. They are people who need Jesus' help. He gives it.

The same words, "Lord, Lord" appear in 25:11 as part of the parable of the Ten Maidens. The response to the foolish ones is virtually the same as in our text, "I don't know you." (A different Greek word is used for "know".)

Following this parable, comes the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30. The word kyrios occurs often in this parable, but is translated in the NRSV as "Master." All three of the slaves will use the address, "Master" or "Lord," and they are judged by how well (or not) they have used the talents the Lord has given them. The third slave did poorly. He knew the character of his lord/master, but did not let that knowledge motivate him to increase his lord's profits.

Could that be similar to our text's "doing the will of my father in heaven"? It is not enough to know who our Lord is. It is not enough even to know the characteristics of our Lord -- loving and gracious. We have to act on it -- continually doing [poieo in present tense, v. 21] something out of that knowledge and relationship.

The word poieo, as I noted above, connects this story with the one just preceding it about the trees bearing the proper fruit where the same word is used four times in vv. 17-18.

This story is also connected to the first image of these concluding verses of Jesus' Sermon. The first word in verse 13 is "enter". The same word is used by Jesus in v. 21. Earlier it was entering through the narrow gate -- and then proceeding along the difficult way that leads to life. In the later verse, it is about entering into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say the words of lordship and talk about what they did in your name. The phrase "in your name" is emphasized by being at the front of each phrase: "in your name we prophesied and in your name we cast out demons and in your name we did many works of power." However, their confession and use of Jesus' name does not gain them entrance! That isn't the way through the gate. A distinction that I've used often before is between the questions, "What do you believe?" and "What difference does it make that you believe?"

Could we go even further and say that not even the proper confession and understanding about Jesus as Lord, and taking care of people's needs in Jesus' name are not necessarily doing the will of Jesus' father?

What is the Father's will [thelema]? Only once is it clearly stated in Matthew: "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost" (18:14). Can we say that we are doing God's will if one sheep has strayed from the flock and we are not searching for that one (18:12-13, just prior to the quoted verse)? I know that my time is easily consumed by the demands of my flock and family without going out looking for the lost ones. Am I failing to do God's will? What would our congregations be like if everyone took seriously that verse as God's expressed will for all of us? God does not want anyone to be lost. Do we believe it? What difference does it make in our lives that we believe it?

The same word is used in Jesus question: "Which of the two did the will of his father?" (21:31a). The answer was the one who said, "I will not go," but later changed his mind and went.

Matthew's discipleship is about doing. He is more concerned about right actions than right confession. Don't we also say, "Actions speak louder than words"?

However, right actions are those that naturally grow out of being a good tree. In vv. 16 & 20 Jesus states that you will know [epiginosko] them (false prophets, but also true prophets?) by their fruits. In v. 23, he tells those who have called him "Lord" and worked miracles in his name, "I never knew [ginosko] you."

Wouldn't prophesying, exorcisms, and mighty miracles be a good fruit to be seen by others? Or, were these people just using Jesus' name? Carter (Matthew and the Margins) surmises about this verse:

...it must be that Jesus, in a way reminiscent of God's special sight and knowledge (6:4, 6, 8), discerns that these external actions are not part of a lifestyle committed to doing the will of my Father. These miraculous deeds are not matched by other merciful and transformative actions of the type envisioned throughout the sermon. They lack an integrity between inner commitment and external action (6:1-18). Miracles alone are not sufficient to enter the reign. [pp. 191-2]

A similar complaint is uttered later by Jesus:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. [23:27-28]

I put lawlessness in boldface, because the same Greek word is used at the end of v. 23, which could be translated, "Depart from me you workers of lawlessness." What makes the deeds (both good and evil ones) "lawless" is not disobedience to some law (the Pharisees worked hard to obey all the laws), but what's on the inside -- the motivations for those actions.

A contrast I made in a sermon years ago was between being a dog or being a tree. Dogs (and most other animals) learn to obey by being rewarded for doing good and/or being punished for doing bad. I did such experiments with rats as a psychology major in college. Our legal system works (partly) on the assumption that people want to avoid the punishments of fines or jail. Rewards and punishments can modify behavior, but that isn't what God wants from us.

Why does a tree bear fruit? It doesn't do it out of fear of punishment or hope or rewards. It does it because it is part of its inner nature. Something inside of the tree says, "Grow apples," or "Grow pears," or "Grow oranges;" and the fruit naturally appears. It doesn't happen became the farmer has commanded it, "Bear fruit."

Could we equate the Spirit's power and presence in our lives as sap -- like the sap in a tree that gives it power and life?

I'm sure you've seen this phenomenon on a human level. The girl in school who seemed to be so awkward and shy and homely, until someone took a real interest in her, gave her a lot of attention, and loved her. As she becomes aware of this new situation, her new status with this boy, that, in fact, she is loved; her entire personality changes a change that is noticed by everyone. Her behavior changes, not because of punishment or rewards; but naturally and spontaneously, because she knows she is loved. There is someone who really cares for her. Her new behavior is as natural as a good tree producing good fruit.

This is the way God works with us humans. His love so changes the person, that good deeds spontaneously and naturally come forth.

Similarly, Jesus wants to know us. Note that the complaint is not that the confessors and miracle workers don't know Jesus -- it's that Jesus doesn't know them! The question to ask of people is not, "Do you know the Lord?" but "Does the Lord know you?" Does the Lord have a relationship with you? Does the love of Christ affect the way you live?

I have a picture of my son shaking hands with President Clinton. (He attended Boys Nation a few years ago.) He, like most of us, could say, "I know President Clinton." He, unlike most of us, could also say, "I shook his hand. I spoke with him." However, I'm sure that if they passed on the street, the former president would have no idea who Michael Stoffregen is. Mike, and most of us, "know" the former president, but he doesn't know us.

Knowing that there is a God is not the same as being known by God (see Rom 1:18-23).

THE TWO FOUNDATIONS vv. 24-27

The difference between the two men in these verses centers on the word poieo. One hears Jesus' words and is doing them. The other hears his words and is not doing them.

One is described as wise [phronimos]. This word has an emphasis on inner contemplations, thoughtfulness. It is also used of the five wise maidens in Mt 25: 2, 4, 8, 9; and the faithful and wise slave in 24:45. In both of these parables, their wisdom is found in looking ahead. Being prepared for the master's/bridegroom's coming -- being prepared by caring for other slaves, by taking extra flasks of oil for their lamps.

The other man is foolish [moros]. It is also used of the other five maidens, Mt 25:2, 3, 8. They are not prepared for a long wait. The contrast to the wise slave is a wicked [kakos] slave, who figures he can do whatever he wants during the delayed return of the master (24:48). Doesn't he think that the master will find out how abusive and mean he has been to other slaves whenever it is he returns?

At least part of being wise means knowing that there is a judgment coming -- and being prepared for that day. The foolish maidens, like our earlier text, are the ones outside saying, "Lord, lord," and they don't get in.

It is interesting that both the wise and foolish men in our text do exactly the same thing. They build houses. The houses could have looked exactly alike. It is not that their work or their houses that are different, but their foundations -- what can't normally be seen. I'm not a house builder, but I would guess that attaching a house to a rock would be much harder than setting a house on sand. Perhaps this relates back to the narrow gate we are to go through and hard road we are to travel.

There are no promises that the life of discipleship will be easy. In fact, there are many passages that talk about the difficulties of following the Way of Jesus -- although we don't usually put such demands as denying self, carrying cross, blessed are you when persecuted on church recruitment posters.

On one hand salvation is very easy. It comes as a gift by the grace of God. It is not dependent upon anything we do. On the other hand, responding to that grace by living the disciplined life can be extremely difficult. In fact, I would say, impossible. The life Jesus talks about in these verses has to come from the insides. Even though my outward actions may appear good and kind and caring; sometimes they do not always reflect my inner attitude.

Rock may also be symbolic of that which is stable, unmoving, firm vs. the symbol of sand -- that which is shifting, changing. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8). While this verse can be used to try and keep everything in the church the same, it is a verse that establishes a sure foundation for our house(hold). Having lived in California, we are aware that even the most solid of foundations are subject to earthquakes.

Both the wise and foolish men experience the same problems: rains, floods, winds. However, the effect of those problems in their lives were quite different.

I read or heard recently that there was a study that showed that divorced couples had no more problems than people who stayed married. However, the married couples had more effective ways of dealing with their problems.

Why can two churches less than ten miles apart can be so different? One is healthy, thriving and growing, while the other is declining? Does one have more problems than the other? Probably not. More likely, one has learned how to better deal with and learn from the problems when they happen.

The wise man expected problems to come and prepared for them with a lot of hard work to build his house on a solid foundation. What if we used that as a model for the governing body of a congregation? What if we told them, "We expect difficulties in the years ahead, and the best way to prepare for them is to become more firmly grounded in Scriptures, in Jesus, in our own lives of discipleship -- and it will take some time and effort to do that."

What is the "rock" foundation? This word, petra, occurs in three other verses in Matthew.

16:18  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

27:51  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

27:60  and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone [lithos] to the door of the tomb and went away.

I think that what is common about all three of these verses is that God is more powerful than rocks. Jesus told Peter that it wasn't his own efforts that produced the good confession, but it came from his Father in heaven. God can split rocks. A rock tomb cannot keep God from raising Jesus out of that tomb.

Working at and taking the time to be connected to God is what gives us a solid foundation that can stand up to the destructive rains, floods, and winds we will face.

HE TAUGHT WITH AUTHORITY vv. 28-29

Five times in Matthew there are similar statements at the end of long speeches (11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

Four times in Matthew, there is the reaction of amazement (ekplessomai) at Jesus' words (7:28; 13:54; 19:25; 22:33). Literally, this word means "to strike out of." It is not a word of faith, but nearly of unfaith. "How could anyone possibly believe what he says? It's all crazy." Note that it is "the crowds" who respond in this way. There is a question about whether or not Jesus addressed this "sermon" to the crowds or to the disciples (and the crowds overhear). Both are mentioned in 5:1.

When Jesus comes down the mountain, "the crowds" follow him (8:1). Why? Do they become examples of appearing to do what is good, but whose inner dispositions are not really interested in the hard work of discipleship? Could they be following to be further amazed by what Jesus says and does? There are all kinds of miracles in chapter 8-9. "The crowds" show up now and then (8:1, 18; 9:8, 23, 25, 33, 36). This section ends with:

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (9:36-38)

This suggests to me that in Matthew "the crowds" are not disciples.

What amazed the crowds was the authority with which Jesus taught. (Not necessarily what he said.) The contrast is presented between Jesus' authority and the authority of their scribes.

Where did scribes derive their authority? From their knowledge and training in scriptures!

This suggests to me that knowing all the right stuff (even the stuff from the Bible) still isn't quite the way through the narrow gate or hard road or into the kingdom of heaven; but being in a relationship with God. Being grounded on the firm foundation of God's power and revelation in Jesus.

One could be a wiz at Bible trivia and still not totally trust God for his salvation. In fact, a wiz at the Bible may have more troubles totally trusting God, because it would be easy to trust his/her knowledge about the Word. Those who, like the Pharisees, are superb at obeying the law, may trust their obedience rather than the power of God. Those who know Jesus as Lord and do mighty miracles in his name, may trust their own abilities rather than God.

There are two ways presented in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. One way is based on looking at what I do -- especially looking at the good, obedient, religious stuff. The other way is based on trusting what God is doing; seeking to know and love us, filling us with Spiritual sap, so that we are good people, who bear good fruit motivated by something deep inside of our being, being our rock foundation that keeps us secure in the midst of the storms of life.


Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364
e-mail: brian.stoffregen@gmail.com