Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Our Lord is explaining the life of blessedness and applying it to his disciples. For example, his followers are to love their very enemies; they are not to judge censoriously. He selects those two outstanding examples in particular of new covenant conduct and lifestyle, and so we may justly infer that our new life in Christ will certainly cover victory over lesser temptations and sins. Our Lord can make such high demands upon us because he has given to every single one of his disciples an inward change of life; they all possess new natures and good hearts, and the evidence that they have such resources will be this new fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, such as retaliating, or arrogantly dismissing other people. There will be good fruit, loving those who despitefully use them, and so on. The change of life from selfishness to serving him is the mark of the change of heart.
Now Jesus is bringing this sermon to a close and he is endeavouring to get his hearers to face up responsibly to the implications of his own teaching. He doesn’t want men simply to listen, to be enthralled, to be informed, to admire the ethic or the preacher. He is asking them, “What are you going to do about this?” He is making it very, very plain that his concern as a preacher is to constrain men to respond in a certain way to the principles he has set before them. He is reminding them that all Christian preaching is to application. At the end of every sermon there is the inevitable question, “What are we now going to do?” Our Lord is focusing attention on that great question, “How are we going to respond? In what ways are our lives going to change in the light of the things our Lord has said to us?” He is asking us today to face up to the responsibility of applying this message to ourselves. He is reminding us of a need not only to be hearing the word, but the need to implement it in our lives.
Now it is very easy to brush aside a sermon. I have told you of a man I knew who went to hear a great Welsh preacher in London. He was highly convicted of the changes that would be needed in this life if he and his wife were to obey the things they’d heard that day. They walked out of the chapel in silence, considering the implications of that message that had come to them, all the changes that would have to take place, counting the cost of serving Christ. Finally he turned to her and said, “He could make you believe that black was white!” Of course! It was the eloquence of an orator. It was all the power of this man’s rhetoric, and they were smart enough to spot it. They had seen through the smokescreen of his eloquence; they didn’t have to change at all from their reasonable lifestyle, and they wouldn’t, and they didn’t. When I met them they were quite set against the demands of the Christian gospel.
Our Lord is highlighting that issue here, of people who say, “Lord, Lord,” and yet they don’t do what he says. You see the picture don’t you? The boss sends for one of his workmen, and he reluctantly leaves his TV set and strolls along to the boss’s office. “I would like you to do this for me . . .” he tells him. “O.K.” he mutters, but back to the television he goes. The boss calls him in another hour and asks him to run an errand for him. “O.K. master,” he says, but he goes back to lying on his couch, and so it always is. His lifestyle is a total denial of his profession to be a servant of this man. That is our Lord’s concern here. Christ is saying that anything less than doing what he says is deficient. Anything that prevents practical application to our thinking and speaking and behaviour is inadequate. If there is not detailed determination to take on board these principles – loving your enemy, and not judging – then that is an ineffective response. Our indifference to our Master’s will can assume many different forms, but the core is to defy the word of the Lord. However, its manifestations can vary.
1. IN WHAT WAYS DO PEOPLE REJECT THE LORD?
i] There are those who won’t pay the least attention to the word. In the parable of the sower out Lord tells his hearers that some seed that was cast out by the man sowing the grain fell on the road. The birds of the air could see it lying there right on the surface, quite stark against the dark background. They swooped down and pecked it up. Jesus says that is a picture of what happens when those who are hostile and restless hear the word of God. Their hearts are as hard as a stone, and before the word has had a chance of putting down any root into their hearts Satan comes and plucks away the word. There is no assimilation; there is no reception; there is no understanding; they are utterly and totally and altogether disengaged. They will not receive a single word said to them.
Now it seems to me that Christ himself was familiar with that kind of response. He had preached many times to crowds of people and at the end there were people who walked away unimpressed, quite indifferent to his words, and anxious to talk about everything under the sun rather than what they’d been hearing. Jesus felt that he was just like a sower wasting the seed by throwing it onto a hard pathway. The Saviour was conscious that his words were simply not getting through; there wasn’t the least interest; there was no reaction at all.
I am very conscious of the responsibility of the pulpit to make the word of God simple, lucid, understandable and attractive in its presentation. I am perfectly prepared in my own name and in the name of every preacher to accept that to a large extent we’ve failed. We are not fulfilling our ambition of bringing the whole of the Bible to bear on the whole congregation. There is no escape from that obligation. It is utterly essential that men and women respond to the word, because that is why God has given it. He has given that duty to the church. The failure is in the undertaking itself. I am not prepared to accept that the Bible is so profound a book that it is entirely beyond any soul in this congregation today, yet the challenge is for a preacher to show its fascination and lucidity and clarity, and that that is where the failure lies.
But let us say that the message we hear has been ABC simple, and that there were winsome illustrations under each point, and that the text announced had been opened up, so that it could not be clearer, and that the whole thing was over in ten minutes. I am saying that even then there’d be people who were itching for it to be over in five, so that they could get up and get going and leave the place. How many of you are switched off? How many even at this moment don’t know where the text is, that they have no idea of what the Sermon on the Mount says? Do the children know that the text is in Luke chapter six and it says in words of a single syllable, Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Isn’t it very simple? Is the preaching so boring? Are the ideas so difficult? Is it impossible to pay any attention at all? Yet that’s the way it is with some; they don’t do the things our Lord says because they’re not paying attention to his words. They have never listened. An eighteenth-century church-goer who was also a shipbuilder confessed that he had often built a ship from stern to stern during a sermon, but when he heard George Whitefield he found himself unable to lay a single plank.
There are people to whom it has never occurred that a sermon could be understood and that it could be life-changing. They have never thought that they could actually go to church and listen and from then on everything would be different. Very often that is why it is so boring – because we are consumed with day dreams. I want to plead with you that the Bible can be understood, and it can be followed. It has its own reasoning; it has its flow, its moments, its relevance and its bearing upon our thinking and values and behaviour. So our Lord is reminding us first of all that there are those who don’t do what Jesus says because they’ve never really listened to it. They turn to a friend at the end of the sermon and yawn saying, “I’ve no idea what he was on about; I couldn’t understand a word of it.”
ii] There are those who do no more than admire the preacher of the word. You meet such people in Matthew’s gospel where at the end of the Sermon on Mount there is great and general acclaim; “What a marvelous teacher young Jesus has turned out to be! I knew his father.” “So did I,” his friend replies, “I remember him as a boy . . .” They’d never heard the like. This speaker wasn’t like the scribes and Pharisees. This man preached with humility and clarity, and forcefulness, and authority, and they were very free with their commendations. They were quite prepared to express their appreciation of his abilities and powers. “What an orator!” So they spoke . . . and yet, when Jesus died, few of them who professed to admire him had become his disciples.
It was possible for men to listen with appreciation to Jesus’ extraordinary explanation of the nature of holy living such as we find in this chapter, and yet, when the congregation wandered off home, they weren’t discussing the urgent need to change their lives, or how they might live out the sermon day by day. They were discussing the preacher. They paid him fair complements, but at the same time utterly ignored the implications and demands of what the Lord had said. This is often the preacher’s lot, especially within a society where there is a certain etiquette and decorum so that men are expected to shake the preacher’s hand and complement him. Members of the congregation can be eloquent in expressing their appreciation of the minister’s vigour, how he walks about the pulpit as he speaks, and his earnestness, and so on and so forth, and yet at the same time to ignore completely the implications of what they have just heard.
All preachers must face the implications of the words of Jesus, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (v.26). It is no complement to the minister when men say all manner of wonderful things about his sermons. The only complement he appreciates is when men leave and put into practice the teaching they’ve heard. It is all very well to say that a man has a great command of language, and that he has a grand personality, and that he has a very logical frame of mind, if at the same time, you’re saying, “I don’t think much of his Lord. I wouldn’t follow his Saviour.”
“Ah,” you say, “I wouldn’t say that,” but it seems to me that the way we live and how we go on and on through our lives in defiance of what gospel preachers are saying to us, is giving out one message, and that is that you don’t think much of my Saviour, and if you don’t think much of my Christ I have no interest in what you think of my vocabulary or eloquence or personality, if you are, at the same time thinking that my Lord is not worth following, not worth obeying, and not worth confessing. I don’t want you to leave a service saying, “That preacher isn’t like other preachers.” I don’t want you to make any comparisons whatsoever except this, “Who is a God like his God? Who is a Saviour like the Bible’s Saviour? Who is a Christ like this congregation’s Christ?”
Some of you in your rejection of the Saviour are saying that you have nothing against the church or one congregation, and nothing against Christian people. Then if that is true all your objections are against Christ, and if that is so then your tolerance of the church and your admiration of preachers all goes for nothing, if at the end of it you disregard the things Jesus Christ is saying.
iii] There are those who constantly put off responding to the words of Christ. It is so easy to say what King Felix once said, “When I find it convenient I will send for you” (Acts 24:25). He was conscious of a certain force in what Paul had said to him. He felt the relevance and urgency of Paul’s message and it required some consideration and deserved careful attention, but just then, at that precise moment, there were other pressing matters, it didn’t fit into his schedule. It was awkward to tear himself away from other urgent matters. He had plans for that day and even for the immediate future. It wasn’t convenient to pay that much attention at that particular moment. He wanted Paul to know that he didn’t intend to dismiss what he had heard out of hand, but just at that moment Felix had plenty on his mind.
I believe that some of you are in that situation, some of you young people are perhaps saying to yourselves that this Christian message is for old people. That is quite interesting, but I’d say to the youngest children here that you have souls too, and I would also say that you have sins too. There are things that you have done wrong this past week. I would also say to you that the Lord Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t prevent little children coming to me,” and that means you must not prevent yourself coming to Christ. Do you know that as soon as you know that you are a sinner then you know that you need a Saviour?
Also I would say to the teenagers that you also have souls, and if Jesus Christ says to you to come then you ought to come to him. I can’t see how it’s right to say that it’s not very convenient at this time to come, and that you are thinking you will come one day when you are older. But I ask you, will it be more convenient then? I would think it is going to get more and more inconvenient to an established non-Christian lifestyle. Will you have any more inclination or desire or even time when you are older? Apart from that, I don’t think you have any right to keep Christ waiting. If Nelson Mandela said he wished to meet you at 10 o’clock on a certain day next week it would not be polite or kind to turn up at 3 o’clock, or to turn up two days later. When their mother said to our girls that the food was on the table and they were to come and say grace and eat what she had prepared for us then she’d expect them to come within the next minute. She wouldn’t appreciate having to call, and then to call again for them to come, and call again in the next half hour. That would be very provocative disobedience, and yet some of us are saying to Christ today, “Don’t bother me now . . . Later . . . I will come later.” Your mother does not give you hours to decide to come and eat a hot meal. When the car is waiting outside the house and the family are all off to the morning service it is terrible manners to keep everyone waiting as you try on this T-shirt and then that T-shirt, or wonder whether you will bind your hair back or have it in bunches, or what shoes you are going to wear. The car is waiting, the engine is running; you must come at that moment even in the wrong coloured T-shirt.
I am saying that no matter how young you are you must take Christ. You say you are only a little boy, then you take him as a little boy, and you follow him as a boy, and pray to him as a boy, and be a little Christian boy for Jesus your Saviour. Whatever you do make sure that you don’t say to him that it’s simple inconvenient for you now to bow to God, and that you want him to hang around for a few more years until you make up your mind you are going to start doing God’s will.
Many teenagers say they want some fun before they come. They want to sow a few wild oats first of all; “Let me taste first of all some of the forbidden pleasures and the dissoluteness of this world.” You want a taste of debauchery, and that’s not hard to get. There’s plenty of it around, and I can compete with others in stories of my past as a teenager, but generally I’m sad about it all, and I think of names and the faces of people I hurt, and I wonder where they are today, and I hope my behaviour didn’t make things worse in their lives, but I fear it did.
There are some of you saying such things as, “The deadline will be marriage . . . we are waiting for graduation . . . we will have our children first of all . . . I am getting tenure and promotion before I think of it . . .” I say that it is always so inconvenient to place God at the centre of our lives, and we forget that we have no tomorrow, that we have no guarantee of tomorrow, just now . . . only now. I add this, that as the days go by and we keep on saying no that it then gets easier and easier and easier to say no. It becomes a fatal habit until at last we’ve reached the last hour of our lives, and then the devil changes tack, “You’d be a hypocrite to say yes now. Now is the time to be brave, and stand by your rejection of God,” and you give in to the devil again, just as everyone living in his kingdom – the kingdom of darkness – does throughout their lives. You die and enter eternity to meet a Christ you were always rejecting throughout your life. Why should you want him in eternity? I can’t see death affecting any change of life. I don’t think dying has any sanctifying energy about it, has it? From what I’ve known of dying it has brought very few sinners to Jesus save for the dying thief. You didn’t want him in life; you didn’t want him in dying; why think you will ever want him? So why should he want you any more?
That is why at this present moment our Lord is saying to us, “Do the things that I say.” That is the only test that you are a servant of God. There is no other. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t put it off any longer. Make up your minds and face up to the implications of this great challenge. Shall I do the things that this man Jesus Christ says? So there are those who refuse to do the things Christ says. In their unbelief they are simply admiring the preacher and constantly are putting off obeying him.
But let me apply this to every Christian present. What is this profession of ours that we are true Christians of Jesus Christ? What does it mean? How does it show itself? What is it all about? What does God and God in Christ ask about our salvation? It’s not enough to be hearing the most evangelistic and true and powerful sermons preached even with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. What does Christ ask? It is this: “Do you do the things that I say?” That is what he asks, and it is to that that all the comforts of God’s gospel is directed.
2. HOW IS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST TESTING US?
“Do you actually do the things I say?” asks Jesus. “You call me ‘Lord’ and that is good because I am the Lord. I am Jehovah Jesus, the incarnate God. I am the form of God, and have the very nature of God. In me dwells all the fulness of God bodily. I and my Father are one. I am pleased you call me ‘Lord’ because I am Lord. There is no other Lord. Indeed I am more pleased that you call me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ You are aware that coming before so august and glorious a God as myself you are showing that you dare not come coldly, leaving your affections outside of my presence, sizing me up and choosing how you’re going to react to me. No, you come to me and there is actually some enthusiasm, “Lord! Lord!” There is some awareness of how great I am. I am pleased with all the terms you use, but I have this one question for you, ‘Do you do the things that I say?’ What does that imply?
i] Is your life one of submission to all that Jesus says? There’s not a man nor even a devil who won’t agree with certain of the sayings of Jesus is there? Professors and hippies and atheistic scientists will all gravely bow before some of the words Christ said. But are we being selective? Are we rejecting many others of the claims of Christ? Are we dismissing many of the warnings of Christ? Are we rejecting many of the comforts of Christ? Are we switched off concerning many of the commandments of Christ? What is controlling our Christian profession? By what standard, by what norm, and by what rule do we live? Are we still going our own way through life? Are we making our own decisions? Are we serving self and selfishness? Or are we being controlled by the words of Christ?
You remember that Christ has set out at the beginning of this sermon four building blocks (in verses 20 through 23) on which the life of the kingdom of God rests. Blessedness can only come to men and women who [i] know that they are poor and can bring to God nothing at all except their sin and need. These same people are [ii] hungry for the living God; they hunger for his truth and righteousness. “O for a closer walk with him,” they cry. [iii] The sins of these people really get them down. They are not indifferent to their follies and falls. They can weep over them. These same people also [iv] stir up opposition and resentment in the world in which they live. People think they are so narrow-minded and strict and unloving and hypocritical and they disdain them. Those four marks characterize the people whom God has brought into his kingdom. They and they alone are blessed. How is it with you? Have you made these attitudes the bed-rock of your own Christian profession?
Then you remember how the Lord Jesus zeros in on two crucially important patterns of behaviour that all his disciples must show, and that he himself displayed. Do you love your enemies? It is not enough to love those who love you. Unbelievers do that all the time, but you do good to those who hate you, and you give loans to those from whom you expect nothing in return. Also you do not judge harshly and censoriously people you know. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. You see the great sins in your own life and deal with them long before you point out to others their little faults. If Christ has given you a new heart and made you are good tree then this good fruit is going to appear. So are your lives controlled day after day by the words of God the Son?
Let me put it in more concrete terms, that if you held today some conviction or other, and then you discovered that it had no foundation in God’s Word, would you let it go? Just because the Lord said that such a prejudice was unhelpful would you let it go? All I am asking is how are things going with you concerning the Lord’s will for your life? Isn’t it a constant peril that church-goers merely rearrange their prejudices week by week? They choose to sit under a ministry that confirms their own beliefs, and they want each week their feelings massaged gently in the area of religion. I see in many congregations a scant regard for God’s word because the Bible is so critical of what are the beliefs and ideas and practices going on in those professing churches. Are we reluctant to contemplate the possibility that God’s word means something different for our own futures, that things about us must change? They have to change. Are churches being controlled by the word of the Lord?
Suppose we know that Jesus teaches a certain attitude to the creation of mankind, and to the sinful heart of man, and the need for a ransom to be paid in order for us to be forgiven, and that we must be born again, and that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid, and that one day he will come in the clouds with great glory, then are our minds really open to such things? Oliver Cromwell spoke some memorable words to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland during his Protectorate. The Assembly was being stubborn and there seemed to be another war looming ahead between two Protestant nations, Scotland and England. “Gentlemen,” said Cromwell, “I beseech you, in the tenderness and sympathy of Christ, please consider you may be wrong.” That is what I am saying to church-goers today. Please consider you may be wrong.
I am asking whether our lives are ones of submission to all that Jesus says. Is my life one that obeys Christ? I must test myself. It is easy for me to stand here in judgment on you and fail to judge my own life. I know that it is the providence of God that today you are here sitting under this message. You must accept your providence as you are being searched today concerning the whole tenor of your life. I am challenging you as to whether your life is one of submission to the teaching of Christ. Maybe it is. Maybe you can examine your life and come to the conclusion that life for you consists of understanding and doing the will of the Lord. But I am pressing you that there may be areas of your life where God’s word contradicts your prejudices and your background and your traditions, or it may be contradicting your revolt against your background and traditions. Are your lives lived in submission to the Bible?
ii] Is your emotional life a life of love and peace? Christ is speaking about love, that the great mark of his disciples is that they love one another, and they love their neighbours as themselves and that they love their enemies, and that it is the constraint of love that stops them from harshly judging other people. Are Christ’s words controlling your affections? You can protest and say that you can’t stop yourself loving someone or hating someone; “I can’t dictate to my feelings; they dictate to me.” No, no! Then you are talking like a natural man. You have the indwelling Christ. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You can turn the other cheek; you can go the second mile; you can forgive 70 times 7; you can give the gentle answer that turns away wrath. Have you realised that the one you call your Lord is Lord over every part of you? He is Lord of your temperament; he is Lord of your emotions; he is Lord of your drives and urges. Do I remember that when I start losing patience with my husband or my wife and my children? Do I remember that when my eye starts roving? Am I guided continually by the Lord’s words? Do I control my anger, my cynical tongue? Do I put my sins to death week by week in the power of the Spirit? Do I remember that Christ said, “No retaliation.” He says, “Love your enemy; bless them that curse you; do good to those who hate you, and pray for them.” These are not suggestions; they are the law of God. I am not to be thinking, “Yes, but . . . Yes, but . . . there are times when anger is righteous indignation. Didn’t Christ cleanse the Temple?” Yes you are right, but it seems to me that anger is rarely legitimate. I am not to spend my energy asking, “Can I be angry now?” Are your affections under all the Lordship of Christ in everything he says?
What of your worries? You know how Christ condemns worrying; “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33). So how do you handle your illnesses, your lack of promotion, your expecting another baby, that problem in the church, that difficulty with your children or your aged parents? Do you handle by worrying or by trusting in the Lord?
Or what of depression? How can you respond to any difficulty by letting yourself get drawn into a depression? “Let not your hearts be troubled,” says the Lord because he is in control, he works all things after the counsel of his own will. From him and to him and for him is everything that affects you. Do not be depressed; believe in God and believe also in the Lord Christ. Are your emotional lives reflecting his Lordship? Are you saying, “Lord, Lord” and no more, or are you saying it as well as doing everything he says? A Christian who is wonderfully orthodox in his grasp of the Lordship of Christ but who is a depressive, a melancholic, a worrier, an explosive and volatile personality is not a person submitting to the Lord. Is your life one of submission? Is it one of love and peace?
iii] Is your devotional life a life of growing dependence on God? The Lord Jesus said little about how to evangelize but he said much about prayer. How much more effective would my preaching and my witnessing be if I and all of us prayed faithfully? I was with an old friend last week, a building contractor who at one time was building fifteen houses a month, but because of the state of the economy now builds one house in fifteen months. His workforce has dropped from a hundred to three or four; he has had to fire long-term friends and workers, many of them fellow Christians, and he has taken no salary throughout this year. He owns a hundred lots of building land, but no one is buying a house these days and he cannot sell those pieces of land. He is near to being declared a bankrupt, and it is all through forces completely out of his control. He has resigned as an elder in the congregation because he doesn’t want to bring shame on the church through what might happen to his business. Each day he has to get up an hour earlier to spend two hours in prayer and meditation because he could not face a day without that. He can only survive in dependence on God. His testimony is strong and helpful to the whole congregation. Jesus says he wants men always to pray and not to faint. Are you saying, “Lord, Lord” and yet not praying?
It’s a matter of looking at my whole devotional life in the light of what the Lord said, and how he himself prayed. He said, “One thing is needful.” Mary listens, and where do you find her? She sits at his feet because she wants to hear clearly everything Jesus has to say. She doesn’t want to miss anything because he has the words of eternal life. She must learn what he says and then do it. What are we going to do? Are we going to submit our will to his word? Are we going to submit our emotions to his word? “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46).
3 August 2008 GEOFF THOMAS