I Never Knew You (Matthew 7:15-23)


Illus: The Wind Blows

  • A golfer picks up grass to see which way the wind blows to understand the angle to swing her club and hit the ball.
  • An outfielder holds the bill of his cap to watch the bend on the hat for knowing the direction of the wind for fielding pop-flies.
  • A quarterback looks to the stadium flags to discern the direction of wind for how to throw to his wide receivers.
  • A sailor glances at the wave ripples to view the wind’s direction to angle and pivot his sail.

Yet, we must never imagine Jesus licking his finger and placing it in the air to mold his message around popular opinion. Jesus didn’t read the daily Jerusalem scoop to find out the buzz of town. He didn’t follow opinion polls or track the latest trends. He didn’t even ask for government or local synagogue approval to preach His messages. Rather, Jesus simply spoke timeless truth with captivating and courageous conviction. 

We began a new message series last Sunday: Hard Sayings Of Jesus. Today we continue the series and stay in the same chapter with Mt 7:15-23. Today’s hard saying is “I never knew you…”

EXAMINE               I Never Knew You          Matthew 7:21-23
21 “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.
22 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?’
23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Last week I speculated that if God had a favorite verse, it may be John 3:16; and if Satan had a favorite Scripture, it may be Matthew 7:1. Today I say, if there was a scariest verse in all Scripture, it would be Matthew 7:21.

This passage is not scary because it talks about weapons or war. It doesn’t mention violence, bloodshed, or even death. Instead, this Scripture references a life that has been wasted. You see, there is something worse than the disappointment of failure, in that of succeeding at priorities that are meaningless and empty for eternity. This passage pinpoints the horrific emptiness at hearing Jesus say, “I never knew you.”

There is something worse than the disappointment of failure, in that of succeeding at priorities that are meaningless and empty for eternity.

Think about it: it’s horrific enough to consider one’s eternal destiny being hell. Regardless of jokes or idle talk, hell is not a laughing matter, and it will not be spent playing with friends but in painful regret. The shame and sorrow will compound for those who have thought they were Christians, calling Jesus “Lord,” and doing works in His name, yet they were not truly saved.

At this point, we can be tempted to think Jesus desires everyone to doubt their salvation. God is dangling the carrot with a long stick and pulling it back every time we draw close. In this case, no one can be confident with Christ or have assurance of salvation. Yet, we must remember the context of the SOM is Jesus contrasting Jewish traditions and human (Pharisaical) teachings.

Jesus’ aim is to confront hypocrites not those who are humble sinners acknowledging their great need for grace. You see that in earlier verses where He addresses…

  • Foolish paths (7:15 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard [θλίβω = compressed, afflicted, refining tribulation[1]] that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”)
  • False prophets (7:15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”)
  • Foul fruit (7:16-20 “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits.”)
  • Fake disciples (7:21 “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.”)

In this summary aim of the SOM, Jesus reminds us of the reasons we are not known by Him, and the indication that we are one of His disciples.

Jesus rebukes hollow affirmations (Mt 7:21-22).

Some people have attended a church for years and decades, having sat in padded seats, stood to sing songs about God, and listened sermons about the Bible. And some of these people will reach the end of their life on earth and step into eternity before God. On that day, they will stand before Almighty God and say, “Lord, Lord.” Their speech is repetitive.

Many times when the Bible offers repetition, it is a symbol of something positive.

  • Isaiah receives a vision of the heavenly temple, he hears angels shouting, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:3). The three-fold reference of God’s holiness indicates unlimited perfection, unimaginable power, and indescribable presence.
  • The psalmist resounds with singing, “His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 118; 136). The manifold and melodic chorus is simply basking in the God’s generous grace, measureless mercy, and abundant hope.
  • The command “Do not fear/be afraid” is listed about 108x. God wants His children to be confident in every circumstance of life.  
  • Paul recites the command to “rejoice in the Lord” in almost every letter greeting and conclusion, and in varied ways throughout his writings (cf. Php 4:4).

In Matthew 7, Jesus references individuals with repetitive recognition of Him as Lord. However, Jesus will respond, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is surprising, if not shocking. Yet, Jesus is saying the double name calling, “Lord, Lord” is a hollow echo. 

  • Student in crowd at SPHS RnR Revival just to hear themself.
  • infant finding their voice
  • Me going through tunnels.
  • Persons at Grand Canyon.

You see, our faith is a hollow affirmation if we only give lip service to Jesus, and do not submit our lives to Him. Jesus and the Bible speak to the fact that our faith must be more than words:

Matthew 6:5-9 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the pagans do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

cf. 1Kings 18:20-39 – “they called upon Baal from morning until noon saying, ‘O Baal answer us!’ But there was no voice and no one answered… Elijah mocked them saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud… raved on… but there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.”

Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Our faith needs correct creeds and devoted deeds.
James 2:17-20 “You believe that God is one; you do well. [But] even the demons believe and shudder!… faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Hollow faith can be described as “having the appearance of godliness but denying [gospel] power” 2Tim 3:5

The reality is that awareness of God is no substitute for agreement with God; and religion is no replacement for relationship with God

  • Knowing the name of a teacher doesn’t make you their student. Likewise, faith in Jesus requires followership.

à What promises have you told God that have been left uncommitted? God forgives failure, but what steps do you need to take to put feet to your faith?

à When you sing in worship or pray privately, are they hollow words or are they reflective of your heart?

 Jesus rebukes headline actions (Mt 7:22).

The people that Jesus speaks about, who call Him “Lord, Lord” and not entering His kingdom have many headline actions. They have prophesied revelations and preached messages in God’s name. They have cast out demons and called out evil in society. They have done many mighty works, whether that be attracting colossal crowds, raising significant funds, construct buildings, perform miracles through prayer or practices, and reach celebrity status. These charismatic actions are dramatic and attract headlines.

Externally these would seem exceptionally spiritual yet Jesus views them as empty. Jesus’ response is “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

The challenge and difficulty with this passage is that these are individuals who believe they are heading to heaven. According to the language they expect a positive response from the Lord Jesus. Yet, the problem is they are relying upon their fleshly accomplishments rather than faith adoration of the Lord.  

So, it seems possible to deceive ourselves by living outwardly what is not true inwardly. What I believe happens is, that these are people who substitute service for salvation. They realize that faith is more than hollow words, and so they fill their time performing good deeds to overshadow their bad deeds. In Jesus’ eyes, lawlessness is not just hollow or immoral actions, but idolatrous actions of pride and self-sufficiency.

It is possible to deceive ourselves by living outwardly what is not true inwardly.

Isaiah says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isa 64:6).

Jesus rebuked the church in Ephesus for similar lawlessness:
“I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:2-4).

  • Review your calendar. Is it filled with activity without spiritual authenticity? 
    • “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary…” (Luke 10:41-42)

Jesus rewards humble allegiance (7:21, 24-27).

The one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is one who does the will of Father God, who is in heaven. Doing God’s will requires humility.

  • Ps 25:9 “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”
  • Mt 18:4 “whoever humbles himself like this child is great in the kingdom of heaven.”

God requires not just humility but allegiance.

  • Ps 25:14The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”
  • Jn 15:10 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Allegiance to God starts with awe. When we awe God’s holy power and gracious love, then we shall be willing to live fully surrendered lives to Him. Following Jesus’ SOM is denying self, perseverance through persecution, humble peacemaking, severing the limbs of lust, forgiving enemies, renouncing the love of money, relinquishing anxiety, and resolving to live as God’s word as our trust and treasure. These are the features of following Jesus.

Jesus closes the sermon with a story – a parable with two people hearing Jesus’ teachings. However, they respond with different foundations.

One person has a sand foundation and does not forecast his/her own house will collapse. In their mind, things are stable. You expect to have tomorrow and far into the future. You cannot imagine circumstances creating life-altering and foundation-shaking events. But the view is nice on the sand, so you keep creating and stockpiling a life on self-accomplished supports.

But sometimes storms arrive without notice. The water level rises and landscape becomes loose with footing beginning to tremble. Howling winds increase and scream throughout the house. Possessions are jarred and the only property that you realize can be saved cannot be purchased with earthly treasure. Instant regret and fear sets in.

The other person lived without a scenic view, at least of earthly comparison. Their formation took longer than expected but their foundation was sound and secure. So, when the winds blew, rain fell, and the floods rose their house was preserved.

Friends, troubles are not a matter of IF but WHEN and our life on earth is not unlimited but finite. What is the foundation of your life?

  • Please examine your soul. Do not be self-deceived. If you have questions or would like to discuss, your pastor & elders are prepared to meet with you on this matter.
  • Please engage other’s souls with truth in love. Look around and through our church directory to see who’s missed past several months, to see who maybe drifting from fellowship and relying on affirmations or actions apart from allegiance to Jesus Christ.
  • Work for Jesus’ reward by doing His will. We must work to make disciples while there is daylight. Be present with the Lord in personal devotions. Get involved with Bible study groups. Grow in accountability and service with our church family. And let’s go make a difference by being salt and light in our community.


The Christian faith is not just about knowing things about Jesus but that He knows you. We become known by Jesus when we say, “Here I am.” Present yourself to the Lord today.

[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 334.

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