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.’
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
(Matthew 7:22-29 ESV)
The contrast between the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and the end of it is striking. It begins with God blessing man. It ends with man seeking a blessing from God and receiving none. Jesus began his teaching with,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:2-12 ESV)
The people Jesus was blessing in Matthew 5 were not seeking his blessing and were probably astonished to receive it. The poor, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, all have other things on their minds, and no time or space in their life to consider a legacy.
The poor spend their days in the pursuit of provision. Those who are mourning are focused on their loss. The meek would not presume to ask for a blessing. The hungry wish for a good meal, nothing more. The merciful hold judgment and release in the balance and need to be about that business. The pure in heart see God, but are not seeking any specific thing from God. The peacemakers are all about resolving the conflicts they see around them. None of them is sitting around wondering how history will acquit them or what legacy they are building.
The end of the Sermon on the Mount is quite different indeed! Those who say, “Lord! Lord!” are nothing more than cloying sycophants – what we would call “suck-ups.” Their whole purpose is to collect their pension at the end.
“God, I cast out demons in your name! That took real work, and it was at great cost! Where’s my reward?”
“God, I preached for 30 years every Sunday (prophesied). I am deserving of a good retirement.”
“God, I built you a huge church! Now… where’s my mansion?”
There are lots of ways to work lawlessness. Demanding what is ours by right is the Creature calling itself the Creator. It is the subject claiming kingship. It is lawless rebellion. But the reward of doing the Law is in knowing God. Or, more accurately, you cannot and will not do the Law unless you know God. The better you know him, the more you will do the Law. And you won’t be doing it for some reward you may get, because knowing him is your reward. You will do the law (and prophesy, and cast out demons, and do mighty works) because you know God.
The foolish people who build their kingdom (house) on sand think they are securing a legacy for themselves. But the memory of the grandest sand castle is as brief as the next tide, and as Jesus so often reminds us, “They already have their reward.” Their chief desire was to do good business for God, present him with orderly books at the end, and get their cut. As Dickens’ Marley reminds us, "'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'" (A Christmas Carol Stave 1, pg. 71)
There is no “cut” to get from serving the poor. There is no cut to get from crying with the bereaved, from waiting with the meek, from providing for the hungry; nor from releasing a judgment, enjoying truth, or making peace. And that is exactly what knowing God will get you.