"Those Jesus Never Knew"
(Delivered Sunday, June 19, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
We continue our study of the Sermon on The Mount this morning; and particularly, of some of our Lord's closing words from that sermon.
I've been surprised by how difficult this portion of Scripture is. To be honest, I think it has been one of the most difficult portions of the Bible I've ever preached from - not because it is hard to understand, but because it contains things that are hard to hear. These words from our Savior put us on the fork of the road. They force us to make a decision that we absolutely must make. They search out and challenge every one of us.
But then, that's the way our Lord is. He doesn't play games with people. He doesn't pass on information to us in order to entertain or flatter us. Long before the world was made, He foresaw the grave situation that our sins would place us in. The wages of sin is death; and He knew that unless the penalty for our sins was paid fully, we would be forever lost. And so, willingly - and in complete agreement with the plan of His Father - He left His throne of glory and came to this earth to pay the death penalty on the cross for us. Therefore, we should know that He wasn't trifling with us when He preached the words of this sermon. He preached to those who were under the judicial condemnation of death; and preached as One who was going to rescue them by dying on the cross in their place.
We should, of course, view all that He has to say in this sermon as being of the utmost importance. But this is particularly so, it seems to me, with these closing words of the Sermon on The Mount.
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Consider the context in which these words are found. In Matthew 5:20, He lets His listeners - that is, His disciples (5:1-2) - know that "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven".
That's how the real 'body' of His sermon begins. It starts off with a shocking "Bang"! Those who heard Him say those words couldn't have imagined anyone being more "righteous" than the scribes and Pharisees! Those scribes and Pharisees were the careful teachers and defenders of the scriptures that contained God's law. They articulated, in great detail, how the letter of that law was to be observed. And yet, He told His listeners that they had to have a righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees or they wouldn't even enter the kingdom of heaven!
Who, then, could ever be righteous enough to get into heaven?!! Well; no one could - not on the basis of their own efforts. And of course, He has already said - in the introductory portion of His sermon that we call "the Beatitudes" - how someone becomes righteous enough to enter heaven. It's through a righteousness that comes only to those who come to God in poverty of spirit - mourning and grieving over their sin, and meekly seeking His favor. It's one that is given to them as a gift of God's grace. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," He had told them, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:3). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," He had affirms; "for they shall be filled" (5:6).
Jesus spends the body of His sermon describing what this righteousness looks like - in a practical sense - in the life of one of His followers. And that brings us to the conclusion of the sermon. The conclusion is found in 7:13-27; and all the way through, these concluding words constitute a very serious call toward those who hear to act rightly on what He has said. He warns them to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life; not through the broad and attractive way that leads to destruction (vv. 13-14). He warns them to be on the alert against those who would lead them in a different way than He has said - calling them 'wolves in sheep's clothing' (vv. 15-20). Later, He will warn them that those who hear what He says, but do not act on it, are like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand - only to see it crumble and fall apart when the winds and waves of life strike against it.
People heard what Jesus said in this sermon, and they were awestruck by it all. Matthew says, in verses 28-29, "And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." We may have become accustomed to these words in church; but the people who first heard them responded as if they had never heard anything like them before.
And it's in this context that He spoke the words of our passage this morning - words that, I suggest to you, may rightly be considered by us to be the most sobering and serious words of warning ever spoken on Planet Earth, because they came from the mouth of none other than the Son of God who will be the Judge of all. And I remind you that He spoke these words - not to a bunch of hard-hearted atheists or to wicked pagans - but to those who considered themselves His followers. He said;
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 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 then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matthew 7:21-23).
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When I read this, one of the things that jumps out to me is the phrase "on that day". Jesus spoke of a particular "day"; and that "day" is the context of the events that He is describing. It's important that we take some time to think about this "day".
This coming "day" is a day like no other. It's the day that all of human history is heading toward. It's the day that every human being absolutely must deal with. It's a day on which all people must keep an appointment; and not even death can excuse them from it. It is none other than the Day of Judgment. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said it well when he called it "that day for which all other days were made, - that day by which all other days must be measured and judged."1 The apostle Paul said, ". . . We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Now, I know it's not considered polite to talk about this "day". People look upon this as a very uncouth subject. You're dismissed as a "hell-fire preacher" if you talk about it. And yet, the Bible tells us much about that coming "day". It is something that God wants us to talk about and think carefully about. We do ourselves an unspeakable and eternal disservice if we ignore what God says to us about this great "day".
No one spoke more about that "day" than Jesus. Here is how He once described it:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' And He will answer them saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:31-46).
In its closing pages, the Bible describes that "day" in these words:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
It's a "day" on which all - both small and great, dead or alive - will be made to stand before God. Not even begin bodily scattered in death across the depths of the sea will keep a person from being resurrected for presence upon that appointed day. The record books will be opened; and each will be judged. The judgment will be just and fair; because each will be judged "according to their works".
This is the "day" in which the Lord will make ultimate distinctions. And for some, it will be a "day" of joy and rejoicing. The apostle Paul - with great faith in Christ - looked forward to it. Near the end of his life on earth, he looked back upon all the hardships and persecutions that he suffered in his service for Christ; and he regretted none of it. He was able to say, ". . . Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day" (2 Timothy 1:12). But for others, the Lord Jesus Himself warns that it will be a day being cast "into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30; see also Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28).
It may not be considered by some folks to be very "tasteful" to talk about this "day". But no one will ever say such a thing ON that "day"! It will prove to have been the most important "day" of all. How important it is to think about that "day" TODAY!
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May I share with you another thing I notice from Jesus' words about that "day"? It will be a "day" - if I may put it this way - of great surprises! Clearly, there will be some who fully expected to be allowed into the kingdom of heaven on that "day"; but who will discover - to their unspeakable shock - that they will be turned away instead by the Lord Himself. In fact, Jesus says that this will be the surprise of "many"!
And before we go another step further, let me suggest to you that the reason the Lord is telling us this now, is so that we will not experience that shocking discovery then! He lets us know - far in advance - that not all who expect to enter the kingdom of heaven will do so; and then, lets us know - far in advance - what it will take for someone to enter. And He does this because He is a merciful Savior - "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
So, even if these words seem offensive to you; and even if you are inclined to turn away from what Jesus says; I pray that you won't. I pray that you will, instead, listen to them, examine yourself against them, and let them reveal to you the truth. Make yourself face the prospect of that great "day"; because in these words, Jesus lets us know what it really takes to stand in His favor on that "day", and be allowed entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
Hear His words now, so that you will have no regrets or surprises then!
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First, they show us that entry into the kingdom of heaven is . . .
1. NOT THROUGH MERELY PROFESSING JESUS (v. 21).
Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven . . ." The word "Lord" is a translation of the Greek word kurios; and it was a title of great honor. It can be translated "Master".
It's right to call Jesus "Lord". In fact, Paul even says that "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom.10:9). No one can be saved without confessing the truth about Jesus - that He is Lord. But clearly, Jesus warns us that the mere confession alone is not enough! Elsewhere, He says, "But why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).
On that great "day", many will be in for a terrible shock; because they will have counted on being allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven simply because they confess Jesus as "Lord". In fact, they apparently even called Him "Lord" with great zeal! They strengthened their profession by doubling it: "Lord, Lord"! Their address to Him is one that is respectful, fervent, public, and - as we read on - may even be accompanied by spectacular acts.2 But Jesus warns that not all those who even do that much will enter.
In fact, we may even take it further and suggest that these "confessors" confessed a very orthodox confession about Jesus. It may have been very much a 'theologically correct' and 'doctrinally accurate' confession as far as it goes. The Greek word kurios was also the word that was used to translate the Hebrew name "YHWY" - the most sacred name of the God of Israel. And when we remember that these words will be spoken by people as they stand before Jesus Christ on the great day of judgment, there can be no doubt in their minds as to who He truly is! They will testify THEN that He is "Lord" in the sense that He is YHWY; the second Person of the triune Godhead; the very Son of God in glorified human flesh! And it may even be that they testified the same thing BEFORE that "day".
And yet, even this profession alone is not enough to allow them entry into the kingdom of heaven! After all, none of us has as accurate an understanding of the theological truths of the Son of God as do the demons - who have seen Him in His heavenly glory with their own eyes! James says, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble!" (James 2:19). Does your Christology cause you to tremble? The demon's Christology causes THEM to do so! They even trembled before Him and said, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29). There's a great deal of good theology in what the demons say! In this case, even the demons make a "profession" that is theologically orthodox. And yet, their mere profession doesn't save them!
There is terrible danger in making our own profession of the truths of the faith the thing that we ultimately trust in. We may have an accurate store of the knowledge of the truth in our heads, and be able to accurately profess the truth with our mouths - and yet, still not enter the kingdom of heaven. What a shock this will be to some on that great "day". No one will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven WITHOUT knowing and professing the truth about Jesus; but Jesus' own words show us that the profession of truth ALONE will not prove to be enough.
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Second, these words show us that an entry into the kingdom of heaven is . . .
2. NOT THROUGH MERELY DOING THINGS FOR JESUS (v. 22).
Jesus says, "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name . . . ?" To "prophesy", in this case, doesn't refer to "telling the future". It refers to the act of "telling-forth" what is proposed to be the word of God. Jesus is speaking here of those who presume to preach and teach others 'in His name'. Many will expect that, because they did so, they will enter into the kingdom of heaven.
And it may even well be that what they taught and preached was the truth! But even teaching and preaching the truth is not enough. Think of the Old Testament prophet Balaam. He was an evil and deceitful man, who was motivated by greed and personal advancement (Numbers 22). And he was eventually killed among the wicked (31:8). And yet, he was a prophet, and the words that He spoke were truly the words of God. Or think of those who Paul said were preaching in the city of Philippi while he was in prison. He said, "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife . . . supposing to add affliction to my chains" (Phil. 1:15-16). But nevertheless, he rejoiced that "Christ is preached" - even by those who were trying to bring him down. They preached a gospel that truly could save others; but their own motives were evil.
Jesus says that many "preachers" and "teachers" will make the claim that they prophesied in His name; and that, for this reason, they will expect to be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus warns that they will only have deceived themselves in thinking this; and that prophesying - even if it involves the preaching and teaching of the truth - will not prove to have been enough for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
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He also says that many will say to Him on that "day", "Lord, Lord, have we not . . . cast out demons in Your name . . .?" Imagine what an impact it would have made on those who saw them do this! They would say, "Demon! In the name of Jesus, I cast you out!"; and out the demon would come. And Jesus doesn't seem to suggest that there was anything 'fake' about it. It may well be that they indeed cast demons out of people in the name of Jesus. It would certainly have left the impression on those who saw it that such a person was the servant of the Lord who "got results"!
But just the fact that a man casts demons out of people by the name of Jesus proves nothing about the man himself. There were some in the Book of Acts who attempted this. Some Jewish men watched the miracles that Paul performed in the name of Jesus; and they "took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches'" (Acts 19:13). One certain group of brothers attempted this - and got badly beaten up by the demon-possessed man! (vv. 14-16).
The Lord may even allow a demon to be cast out by such a man; and in that case, the man is like the Lord's "push broom". It's not the man himself who casts the demon out, but the Lord. But while the Lord may allow the man to be used to sweep the demon out, that doesn't tell us anything about the spiritual condition or eternal destiny of the "push broom"!3 What's more, the devils themselves aren't adverse to the idea of deceiving someone who thinks that he is casting them out in Jesus' name. The Bible tells us that "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14); so surely, even the demons can go along with an "exorcism" if it would be to their advantage. Personally, I have no doubt that this has happened often. The devil's demons will gladly go along with any deception . . . so long as it leads people to place their attention on an 'exorcist' rather than on Christ.
Jesus warns that many so-called "exorcist" will be in for a shock on the great "day". Not even a record of casting out of demons "in Jesus' name", if it is alone, is enough for someone to trust in for an entry into the kingdom of heaven.
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He even says that many will say to Him on that "day", "Lord, Lord, have we not . . . done many wonders in Your name?" They will even make the case that they were 'miracle workers' for Jesus; and will expect that, on that basis, they should be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven.
And there seems to be no denial on the part of the Lord that they had indeed done wonders of some kind. In fact, Jesus even tells us elsewhere that, in the last days, ". . . false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). But the Bible warns us that even the coming of the Antichrist will be "according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
Once again, Jesus warns that many "miracle-workers", who perform wonders in His name, will be in for a shock on that great "day". Because even the working of miracles in His name, if it is alone, is not enough to allow someone to enter the kingdom of heaven.
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Now, these are great things: preaching, casting out demons, performing miracles. And note carefully that, in each case, they insisted that they did these things 'in Jesus' name' - that is, as if for Him and in the advancement of His cause. Many, many people are doing such things even now. And because of these things, they fully expect that they would be allowed to enter into the kingdom of heaven on that great day.
But Jesus says, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you . . .'" To say that He never "knew" them doesn't mean that He had no cognitive recognition of them. It means that He had no relationship with them. In the original language, He places the emphasis on the word "never"; and He was essentially saying, "Never, at any time, have I had any relationship with you." And then comes those awful words; ". . . Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" They thought they were doing great things in His name; but as far as He was concerned, all they did were act of lawlessness! What a dreadful surprise! I pray that no one in this room will hear those words!
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Consider what Jesus said about those people who WILL hear them. He said that they were those who "practice lawlessness". The word that Jesus uses to describe their acts is one that combines the Greek word for "law" (nomos) with the prefix that negates the word (a - ); thus, they are called those who work "anomian", that is, "lawlessness".
Perhaps, like me, you have wondered why He calls them this. Why "you who practice lawlessness"? I have thought about that; and let me suggest an answer. To start with, we must always remember that the most fundamental doctrine to the idea of salvation is a belief in what the Bible teaches us about sin. And here's where God's holy law comes in. If we will not take the law of God - expressed for us in the Ten Commandments - seriously, then we will not take sin seriously either. "I'm not so bad!", we'd say - even though the law of God clearly reveals that we ARE "so bad", and that we have sinned horribly before a holy God. And if we won't take God's condemnation of our sin through His law seriously, then we certainly won't take seriously the doctrine of Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins either. And if we will not take His atonement seriously, neither will we personally accept God's offer of salvation by faith in His cross.4
Jesus taught us that it's the sinner who beats his breast in sorrow and says, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner", that walks away justified in God's sight. But we will not sorrow over our sin before God if we reject the condemnation of our sin by God's law. Rejecting God's law also means rejecting the idea that we are desperately in need of a Savior. And because we then reject the need of a Savior, we do not trust in Christ for salvation.
In that sense, I believe those who try to earn their way to heaven by their profession of Jesus alone, or by their performing of good deeds in His name alone, have - at the core - rejected God's law, and it's condemnation of their sin. After all, if they believe that they're NOT lost in their sins, then they believe that it's within their power to work their way into God's favor. In that sense, they are "lawless"; "workers of iniquity". I suggest then that to "practice lawlessness" in the context of Jesus' Sermon on The Mount would mean that the person in question has encountered the law of God, and has experienced the condemning power of the law because of their sin; and yet has chosen to reject the law and it's condemnation in respect to themselves; and they then, likewise, reject Jesus as He has presented Himself - the only Savior from sins. Whatever they do in place of trusting Him is nothing short of putting their rejection of God's law into practice. They are those who "practice lawlessness".
And such people will not enter the kingdom of heaven. All their works - their professions about Jesus, or their efforts to do good deeds "in His name" - will never prove to be enough.
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And that leads us to a final point. The entry into the kingdom of heaven is not through those other things . . .
3. BUT THROUGH BEING KNOWN BY JESUS (v. 23).
Jesus says, "I never knew you . . ." And there's how we enter into heaven. It's through a relationship with Jesus, in which He knows us.
Did you notice at the beginning that Jesus says that "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven . . ."? And did you notice that He said at the beginning what is required? He goes on to say, "Not everyone . . . But he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Two things are required in this passage: (1) doing the will of His Father, and (2) being "known" by Him in the sense of having a personal relationship with Him.
And these two things are two sides of the same coin. Would you like to know what it is the Father's will that you do? Someone once asked Jesus, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" And Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:28-29). That's the will of God for you and me; that we acknowledge that He is the Savior from our sins, and that we believe on Him for our salvation. That's how we enter into a relationship with Him.
You do not do good works to enter into heaven. Nor do you enter by merely laying claim to Jesus' name. You enter into heaven through a personal relationship with Jesus Himself. But once in that relationship, you show the reality of it by a life of obedience to Him. Jesus once said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (John 10:27-29). As Paul wrote:
. . . The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).
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That great "day" is coming. These are hard things to hear; but they must be heard! And I would be very remiss if I didn't ask you this question: What are you trusting in to enter into the kingdom of heaven on that day? Do you trust in simply professing the truth that Jesus is "Lord" as if that's all that is needed? Well; Jesus already knows who He is. He doesn't need you to tell Him. And Jesus Himself lets you know today that merely professing the truth about Him will not be enough to save you then!
Or do you trust in doing great works "in His name"? Jesus is the almighty Son of God. He certainly doesn't need you to do good things for Him! And He certainly isn't impressed when someone goes out in His name when He did not commission them! Again, Jesus lets you know that if merely doing things - even great things - "in Jesus' name" is what you count on, then you are in for a terrible surprise on that great "day".
He lets us know that only one thing will prove to be enough; and that is that we hear Him say to us personally, "I know you. I have a relationship with you. I recognize you as My own." We enter into that relationship by faith, when we (1) confess that we are needy sinners before a holy God, (2) place our faith - not in our good deeds or accurate professions - but in the Person who died on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins, (3) thank God in prayer, by faith, that Jesus died in our place and for our sins, and (4) rise up and follow Him daily in obedience to His commands.
Have you ever watched a person of great authority "welcome" someone who approaches him; at, let's say, a formal gathering or an official event? That person of authority warmly smiles and greets that person who approaches him because a relationship between them had already existed. He already knew that person beforehand. Likewise, to have Jesus smile upon us, welcome us, and say to us on THAT great "day", "I know you!", requires that we walk with Him in a personal relationship of love by faith NOW - long before that day comes. I pray that you will enter into that relationship today; and be ready on the great "day".
1Sermon # 2808; in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 48; AGES Software (Albany, OR, 1997).
2John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), pp. 206-7.
3R. Gutzwiller; cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1992), p. 181n.
4Donald Macleod, A Faith To Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), p. 107.
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