The Sermon on the Mount, and not all who read this will be happy with it. We live and grow up in a Christianity that tells us to say a sinners prayer, usually based on Romans 10:9 (“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:8-10 ESV) check our “salvation box”, and now we who once were “out” and condemned to hell when we die are now “in” and have just assured ourselves of a magic carpet ride with a disembodied soul to live in heaven for eternity. But, if you read what Paul is telling us in this great passage from Romans, he us simply echoing what Jesus told us in his beatitudes at the outset of this Sermon on the Mount – that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and available to all who would come to it. It is no longer exclusive to the Jews only, but also available to the Gentiles – or anyone else who would come. Look one verse farther at what Paul says – “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” Romans 10:12-13 ESV. As in so many other of Paul’s great messages, he is simply echoing what Jesus said all along – “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29 ESV
So, as Jesus is wrapping up his message on the hill, he gives us this little note – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. So, why does it seem as though Paul is contradicting Jesus here? Paul (and many others) tells us everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but Jesus explicitly says Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. The reason is simple – we have a different definition for “kingdom of heaven” than Jesus.
For us, the “kingdom of heaven” is where we hope our disembodied souls will fly off to at our death, our eternal resting place, our true and final “home“. It’s the “great Christian hope” we cling to. It’s what we’ve been taught, it’s all we’ve known. So, when we read Jesus (and Paul) we are just puzzled by even the most basic Gospel statement Jesus himself ever made – “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” Matthew 4:17 ESV. We are puzzled by this, we miss the point. We think Jesus is talking cryptically about himself being present in the world, and in a way that’s true enough. It is his presence that brings the kingdom, but Jesus message then, as it remains to this moment, is the same – the kingdom of heaven is at hand. As in, right here, right now. Even in his basic prayer which he gave us, he refers to the kingdom being present on earth as it is in heaven.
So, essentially, most of us do not miss the kingdom of heaven by 14 inches, or whatever the difference is between the head and the heart, as is so often said. The reason we miss the kingdom of heaven is the same reason Jesus told Nicodemus he would miss the kingdom. “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” John 3:3 ESV. We miss the kingdom of heaven because we are never actually born again, in the words of Jesus. Because, and Nicodemus understood exactly what Jesus was telling him here in this discussion between two rabbis of Israel, to be born again is to be able to rethink, or repent, of how we see the world. And unless Nicodemus was born again, unless we are born again (again), he would not see the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, which Matthew calls the kingdom of heaven because Matthew rights specifically to the Jewish audience for whom using the Lord’s name was to be feared, which is at hand.
So we say our sinners prayers, check our box, and live our lives, same as it ever was. We don’t repent, we don’t rethink, we don’t see the kingdom of God. We just continue to help create our hell on earth, doing and seeking our own will, standing up for our rights, doing things our way.
Because we forget that God called his creation good, good, and very good in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we think that the ultimate Christian hope is the destruction of our good planet in a final Armageddon, which will signal Christ’s return to separate the wheat from the chaff and whisk all his saints off to heaven. So who cares what we do, how we treat people, how we treat the planet?
We forget what Jesus told Nicodemus that dark night as they continued their talk. “”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV. I could go on and on, but let’s say this right now – God sent Jesus in the flesh to save the world. He did not send him to save parts of people for another world. And unless we are born again, we will never see that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. So some will call Jesus “Lord” and still not enter the kingdom of heaven. Because we will miss the kingdom when we see it. We do miss the kingdom when we see it. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand, right here, right now, and we do not see it. We do not believe what Jesus tells us. We will not follow his path as laid out in the sermon on the mount, the path that includes the teaching about not just forgiving, but loving our enemies. The path that includes laying aside our anger, our lust, our very wills. Because we are still about carrying out our own wills. We may use the name of Jesus, but we still seek for our will to be done, not his. Because, after all, this world is run by us, all we need Jesus for is that trip to heaven when we die.
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 mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. We can do all the great things we want. We can create all the wealth, cure all the diseases, drive the best cars, send our kids to the best schools, feed, house, and clothe all the poor we want (through a government program, of course. I mean, Jesus didn’t actually intend for me to do all this personally, in my own life, did he?). We can even do them in his name. But unless we are doing his will in his name, not our will in his name, then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you’.
How do we know what his will is? The first thing Jesus ever told us to do is the same thing he continues to tell us – Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent, turn, change, be born again. Become willing and able to see the world differently, to see the other as your brother (he’s always been your brother anyway, you just have never been able to see that, never been able to see the kingdom of God. Never been able to the the kingdom where all the others are our brothers.). It is after we repent, are born again, and can see the world differently, that we begin to see the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
It is only then that we can begin to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”” Mark 12:30-31 ESV. It is only then that we can do the will of my Father who is in heaven.
It is only then that we really begin to understand that the great Christian in not that we are going, but He is coming.
“”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is 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 mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV