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Dec 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 17, 2017 – Matthew 7:15-23


Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:15

Intro: Last week, Jesus left us at a crossroads

One road was broad and led through a wide gate to destruction
The other road was narrow and led through a small gate to life
– someone listening to Jesus might ask,
• “If the roads are that obviously different, how could we go wrong? How could there be only a few who find it?”
• that is the question Jesus answers in this passage
◦ some people out there are selling the broad road as the true road
– the problem of false prophets is addressed many times in the Old Testament

Thus says the LORD of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.

They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination;
Not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jer. 23:16)

• Jesus warns the crowd that this will continue to be a risk for them

“Beware of the false prophets”

Notice the animal metaphor that Jesus uses to illustrate the risk
– compare this with his warning to the disciples before deploying them:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men (10:16-17)

• this is a similar analogy with reference to animals
◦ but in spite of the potential danger of aggressive wolves,
◦ it’s men that pose the greatest threat
• Jesus is watching out for his followers; he is warning them
– in the 1960’s and 70’s, many Christians wanted to learn about biblical prophecy
• they wanted to know how the world was going to end
◦ and if they could fulfillment of Bible predictions in the daily newspaper
• the disciples were curious too about when the end would come and what signs would precede it
◦ when Jesus answered their questions, the first words out of his mouth were:

See to it that no one misleads you (Mt. 24:4)

• isn’t that interesting?
◦ his first concern was that their fascination over fulfilled prophesy would be used to deceive them
◦ this is an ongoing danger that Jesus saw as a serious threat

Sheep appear harmless, vulnerable, fragile
– a perfect disguise for deadly religious predators

To conservative Christians, the danger is false doctrine
– but that is not always the case — the person who brings the message can be false
• false prophets can talk about God while promoting themselves

Many popular teachers make bold promises when selling people on their books, seminars, conferences, and recorded messages. They advertise their literature and lectures as providing buyers with the biblical principles necessary to divorce-proof their marriages; drug-proof their children; make rapid and pain-free progress in their spiritual journey; or attain all the material wealth every Christian should enjoy. Their spiel is so authoritative and promising, it is difficult to resist the broad path they promise the Christian consumer.

• more than once, prophets and people conspired substitute easy bromides for hard truth

An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely . . .
And My people love it so! (Jer. 5:30-31)

You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions (Isa. 30:10)

– the truth about the false prophets: inwardly they are ravenous wolves
• “inwardly” has been one of Jesus’ main points in the Sermon
◦ he has been continuously probing our hearts
◦ and he will carry this on through the remainder of his ministry
• we have to look inward to find the real person

Jesus changes the metaphors to plants and trees

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
So then, you will know them by their fruits Matthew 7: 16-20

The question now is, How can we recognize the false prophet?
– Jesus says, eventually, everything will reveal its nature
• in the story of creation in Genesis 1, God made vegetation
◦ each plant was made to bear fruit after its kind (i.e., according to its DNA)

Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?

• if we do not know what to look for, we can be misled by what we see
◦ “She’s such a nice person”
◦ “He really knows his Bible” (i.e., he’s memorized a bunch of Bible verses)
◦ “They have these uncanny abilities; they know things”
– but these traits can be their disguises – sheep’s clothing
• a person’s image is not his or her identity
◦ the sociopath can be nice, even charming
◦ quoting verses to win argument isn’t the purpose of the Scriptures

As Joel Green points out, “… the church engaging the Bible as Scripture is itself being shaped in the form of and by Scripture, and it serves [as the] premier instrument by which God’s people are formed as persons who embody Scripture.”

◦ spiritual gifts cannot be used as credentials

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-2)

What sort of fruits do false teachers eventually produce?
– the following characteristics are drawn from scripture and personal experience:

  1. They insert themselves between you and God
    (and they presume to speak for God)
  2. They define reality for their followers
    (they create a schema, construct or worldview)
  3. They treat your beliefs as either wrong or shallow
  4. They need to control you – monopolize your time and energy
  5. They put down other teachers and ministries
  6. Some of them make claims to secret knowledge or mysteries
  7. Many of them have strong personalities or exude a powerful charisma

– according to Jesus, what they are inwardly will determine their destiny

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (cf. Mt. 3:10)

Jesus is not yet finished with false prophets

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness Matthew 7:21-23

In both instances Jesus describes, these people are talking to him
– they are presenting arguments for why they should be allowed in
– and here we get two surprises

The first surprise, Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord . . .”
– Jesus has already identified some people who would not likely to enter the kingdom
• scribes and Pharisees (5:20), hypocrites (6:1-17), and unenlightened Gentiles (6:7)
• but now the sad truth is that some standing in his circle would not enter
◦ (Pharisees and Gentiles were not saying to him, “Lord, Lord”
– people do not gain access for what they say, but by what they do
• and specifically, by doing his Father’s will
• later on, Jesus will tell a parable about two sons (Mt. 21:28-32)
◦ a man asked both of his sons to work in his field
◦ one said he would, but did not; the other said he would not, but then did

But what do you think? Jesus asked, Which of the two did the will of his father?

◦ one said all the right words, but the truth came out in their deeds

The second surprise–and this one is even bigger
– many of the doers will not enter the kingdom of heaven
• and these deeds are big!

. . . did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons, and perform miracles?

◦ they did things what Jesus sent his disciples out to do (Mt. 10:1, 8)
• I tend to think miracle workers are the most devout Christians
◦ men and women of extraordinary faith
◦ that they are better Christians, better people than I am
– but Jesus was not that impressed by miracles
• when he pressed to provide his credentials by performing a miracle, he refused
• but this is confusing – their fruit is impressive
◦ and Jesus had just said it was the doers who produced good fruit

I am intrigued that Jesus said, I never knew you and not, “You don’t know Me”
– when Paul told the Galatians that God changed their relationship to law, he said,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God . . . (Gal. 4:9)

• that is, to be recognized by God as his own
• what Jesus says is, “I never knew you as someone who belonged to Me”
◦ he saw how their remarkable deeds were flawed
– this is similar to the way hypocrites gave to charity, prayed, fasted (Mt. 6:1-18)
• it was for self-promotion and not out of devotion to God

What does that leave us with? What fruit does Jesus hope to find?

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apaert from Me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. . . . If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. . . . This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (Jn. 15:5-17)

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)

– you know when someone loves you
• if they make time for you, empathize with you, listen to you
• and we can be sure Jesus knows us, because we love him
– also, the beatitudes and the superior righteousness are also fruits

Conclusion: Before we leave this passage,

I want you to hear how Jesus spoke to the crowd
– he addressed them as insiders – he assumed they were with him
• he is warning them about “someone else”

Jonathan Pennington explains that this passage “is not given to cause morbid introspection or undue self-doubt for the believer but rather to exhort one not to be enamored with external gifts and powers and behaviors without paying attention to the soul and heart. Jesus is warning his followers to beware of such people precisely because they have the appearance of godliness . . . .”

– at times, the disciples felt Jesus’ challenge was impossible (e.g., Mt. 19:25)
• when they expressed their concern, his answer was,

“That is why I am here. You cannot do it alone.
But I am here to guarantee that you will make it–
make it along the narrow path and through the small gate
into the kingdom of My Father.
And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
(Jesus’ final words to his disciples and also
(the last words in the Gospel of Matthew)

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