Listen to the commentary
Here’s a somber reality that you’ve probably confronted at some time in your believing past: is what you’re reading right now – in the Bible – a source of comfort? or, conviction?
There’s a passage in Matthew’s gospel that can sometimes cause pause: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (7:21-23). What’s up with that?
This presents a very gnarly warning – issued by none-other than Jesus, himself – to people who are savvy enough about legitimate faith to know the lingo but are on the outs with Heaven. Wherever legitimate ministry is happening, the risk of aberrant alternatives will often/always be a risk.
Paul knew that full well. As he explained to his spiritual son Timothy, writing from a jail cell but still fully engaged, the conduct of charlatans is timeless: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected” (2 Timothy 3:6-8).
Who are these Jannes and Jambres characters? Flip back to Exodus, and you’ll find them as the resident magicians/sorcerers in Pharoah’s palace who were able to replicate Moses’ miracle of rod-to-snake-to-rod power demonstration, which was Moses’ confirmation of his God-given role. The Enemy was able to replicate that miracle, though not aligned with God’s “Let My people go!” message.
Here’s a crucial distinction that becomes abundantly obvious when you read between the lines in God’s word: miracles are not a reliable indicator of divine activity.
But wait a minute: didn’t Jesus perform miracles? Certainly, but his miracles were always the opening act for the redemptive message that followed. No message; no miracles. In the gospel accounts, his message was frequently titled “the Gospel of the Kingdom,” and it was his constant theme. Miracles softened His audience and validated his power; his main event was the death-to-life message.
Stephen Covey famously advised: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Paul had that clarity nearly 2000 years earlier: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).
Read that cautionary warning again, straight from Jesus: there will be self-deluded but publicly-acclaimed miracle workers who will be rejected someday at Heaven’s gate as poseurs who were never in relationship with Jesus: “Away from me, you evildoers!” That, in stark contrast with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What was missing from the losers’ ministry lives?
No Gospel. No citations of the ultimate miracle: people transformed by the power of the Cross, and the salvation that comes from no name but Jesus. No declaration of “He must increase, but I must decrease;” rather, they were famous for miracles, and elevating their names above His.
For Cheri and me, we look past the reports of good works and great philanthropy: when we’re asked to join forces or send money, we look for the Gospel. If it is not featured as the “main event,” beyond the “opening acts” of charity and humanitarian provision, it lacks the unique nature of what Jesus demonstrated during his three years of ministry modeling that led to the Cross.
Is the declaration of the Gospel a requisite for your partnership and support?