“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”
“Lord, Lord Have We Not…”/”Lord, if You are willing…”
The distinction in how one says “Lord” is, essentially, the difference between Law and Gospel. In the first instance, we read of men coming to the Lord Jesus on the day of judgment claiming not His work but their own as the ground of their justification before God. They believe that they are entitled to the kingdom because of what they’ve done. Whether it be miraculous healings, evangelistic crusades, missions trips, bible clubs, food drives for the homeless, etc, what Matthew 7:21-23 teaches us very clearly is that not all who toil and spin in the name of Christ will enter. For works, no matter how mind-bogglingly amazing, do not justify a man, but grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And that is exactly what these false professors in Christ lack completely. They have external works, but they lack faith. They are self-sufficient and filled to the brim with themselves; they are enemies of Christ who display their enmity by their words: “Lord, Lord have we not…?”
This works mentality that strives to win God’s grace by one’s efforts, that believes that God must mete out the payment they demand for their deeds – this is not the mind set of one who has known the grace of God, but of one who is laboring under a curse. It is to these people that the Lord states those terrifying words of v.23: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” And it is in contrast to these men that we meet the leper of Matthew 8:2 who does not appeal to his own works, nor his worthiness, nor his spectacular miracles and supernatural powers – a man who does not look to himself as anything but an unworthy and sinful creature, this man appeals to (i.)the Sovereignty of Christ, (ii.)the power of Christ, and (iii.)his own incapacity to make himself clean, when he says:
Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.
The contrast couldn’t be anymore profound, could it? Whereas the men in 7:21-23 point to themselves and their exploits in the name of Christ, this leper only points to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who must be willing if anyone is to be healed. It is He who alone has the power to heal (if He so wills to heal anyone). It is we who are sinful, outcasts, beggars, liars and thieves who deserve nothing. Let anyone who thinks that he will display his works before God on the day of judgment and wait for the reward of eternal life be ashamed – for it is the leprous outcast of Israel who receives the grace of God by faith, and not those who proudly wear their prophecies, miracles, and powers on their sleeves as badges of spiritual honor.
The leper understood the Law. He understood that under its infinitely exacting demands for purity, he was judged as an accursed thing. He understood that before God he had no other plea – no work, no miracle, no sign, no wonder – than this: The mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. This leper understood the Gospel; the men of 7:21-23 did not. This leper understood that God shows mercy to whom He wills to show mercy (cf. Romans 9:18); the men of 7:21-23 thought they could merit God’s mercy by what they did.
See the difference?
The focus of the men of 7:21-23 was their power, their deeds, their miracles, etc; the focus of the leper was Christ alone. The difference between the men of 7:21-23 and the leper also has to do how each perceived himself. Those who brought their deeds before Christ in order to merit His kingdom, these men were blind to their true condition. They thought they were great and spiritual, but they were as nothing before God and completely lost in their sins. By staggering contrast, the leper understood what the Law said of him: He was unclean, unworthy, fit to be judge eternally for his sins. But he also knew that God shows mercy to the undeserving. And it is on that fact that he hung his hope.
“Lord, Lord Have We Not…”/”Lord, I Am Not Worthy…”
In Matthew 8:5-13, immediately after the Lord heals the leper of his leprosy, he is approached by a man whose servant is sick. When Christ states that He will come and heal the man (v.7), the man declines and says: “…only speak a word, and my servant will be healed”(v.8b). This, again, stands in marked contrast to the words of the false prophets of 7:21-23. The false prophets flaunt their works before Christ; the centurion whose servant is sick states: “I am not worthy.” Let that sink in. The contrast is even greater when we consider the fact that the false prophets had no real position of authority, but the centurion actually possessed real, God-given authority! The false prophets were not ordained by God to a position of power and prominence (cf. 7:23), but all governmental officials are (cf. Romans 13:1). What this centurion understood that the false prophets did not is this one fact: Christ alone has all power, not men like the centurion- even if they are appointed to special tasks by God.
The centurion also understood that the power was not in his own words, his own actions, and his own exploits; the power was in the Word of the Sovereign Son of God. It is Christ, and not sinful men, who has been given dominion over all creation. While the centurion says “Go” to the men under him and they go, Christ alone says “Go” to a legion of demons and they all must obey His Word (cf. 8:9 & 8:32). The centurion saw his own authority as absolutely nothing before the Sovereign King of kings; the men of 7:21-23 did not.
“Lord, Lord Have We Not…”/”…Lord, Save Us! We Are Perishing!”
This is the strongest example to be set in contrast to that of the false prophets of Matthew 7:21-23. In Matthew 8:23-27, when a storm is about to wreck the disciples’ boat and destroy them so that they would perish in the sea, they don’t cry out: “Lord, Lord have we not…?” Rather, they cry out: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (cf. 8:25) They turn their wavering minds and hearts to Christ, since only He can save. They acknowledge that they can only do one thing apart from Christ: Perish. How different is this attitude from that which we encounter in 7:21-23? It is, I think, the polar opposite. For the false prophets who are about to perish eternally don’t plead with Christ to save them, but plead with Him to look at their works and signs and wonders; contrarily, the disciples who are only about to perish physically cry out “SAVE US!”
The difference couldn’t be any clearer. The false prophets labored under the curse;the disciples turned to Jesus, who alone does the miraculous.
This is the difference between Law and Gospel, between the righteousness which is of the Law versus the righteousness which is by faith. Contrary to what legalists would like to tell us, the problem with the men of Matthew 7:21-23 is not that they did not have enough works, or the right kinds of works, but that they pointed to themselves, to their own works, to their own abilities, to their own capacities. The leper, the powerless centurion, and the perishing disciples cried out for mercy. The false prophets were condemned; the leper, the centurion, and the disciples were saved.
It’s really that simple.
In Matthew 7:21-23 and 8, there are presented two ways of saying “Lord”: (i.)the self-righteous way in which the religious hypocrites stated it, assuming that they would be given entrance into heaven because of their mighty exploits; and (ii.)the humbled way in which the leper, centurion, and the disciples state it, as they understood that it was Christ who chose whom He would save (cf. 8:2), it was Christ who has all power (cf. 8:8-9), and it was Christ who alone could save (cf. 8:23-27). The false prophets thought pointed to themselves as the ones who healed the sick, cast out demons, and did many wonders – but Matthew 8:17b tells us:
He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses
Will you appeal to your works on the day of judgment? Will you appeal to your mighty exploits? Will you demand from God that He give you what is His right, alone, to give anyone?
Or will you recognize yourself for what you are: A leper, a powerless person who is perishing?
Will you recognize Christ for who He is – the Sovereign, Electing, Healing, and Saving Son of God?