September 30, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:15-23


We embarked on a journey that has led us through the greatest sermon ever given. We have heard things, hopefully in a new light, that have helped us understand Jesus’ teaching better. Jesus’ listeners had never heard teaching like this before. The message was deeply rooted in their own religious heritage of the Law and the Prophets, but was VERY different from the teaching of the Pharisees.

Matthew 7:28-29 even says, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Together we have walked through a good bit of teaching on some pretty important topics the past couple of weeks...what kind of people the Kingdom of God blesses, we’ve looked at anger and murder, lust, integrity, prayer, giving, fasting, worry, having the right treasure...we’ve looked at a lot of things.

Two Paths

Jesus is now winding down this sermon, and reminding his listeners they have two paths laid out ahead of them. Charlie started us off last week, but we need to look at it a little bit again to give us some context for today.

Matthew 7:13-14,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
This isn’t just about eternal destiny. This isn’t just about where we end up in the end. This is about here and now and this life we are living. We make choices every day that determine whether we are on the path that gives true life or whether we are on the easy road that leads us down the path of destruction.

There is the wide gate with its broad road that, while it seems good...it has nice scenery...it has well paved streets...and nice safe neighborhoods...Everyone who’s anyone is on it. It is made up of those natural choices, those things that seem like common sense, those ideas that seem to be good. It can easily seem like the right path, but it actually leads to destruction. Jesus says that many people travel this road.

Instead, Jesus says choose the narrow road. Choose the road with the small gate and the narrow road that leads to life. This isn’t the road that seems good, or seems like it will lead to life. It can and will have difficulties. It requires sacrifice. It won’t allow you to continue doing things as you have been doing them, and it will constantly ask you to change and grow...if you want to stay on the path.

Jesus is talking about intentionality. The small gate and the narrow road takes work to find. You will not just stumble upon it. You have to want to be on that road because it doesn’t just happen.  And it also takes work to stay on...we are not talking about a one time decision at that one time in your life and you are good. We are talking about a regular on-going decision to stay on that road. Because life has a way of dragging you to the easy road...the broad road...the road where you do the easy thing. But the narrow road is a lifelong journey of choices to stay on that road.

The narrow road asks us to regularly confess sins...to be part of a community...to make sacrificial giving and living a part of our lives...to seek after Jesus’ way above all else...The narrow road asks us to do some pretty risky things because life, true life, is about more than just being alive...it is about having life...even though many have died because they are on the narrow road.

The choice is between two roads.

False Prophets and False Disciples

So then we come to today’s passage...let’s read it and then discuss it a bit.

Matthew 7:15-23

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

“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!’

Why, after talking about narrow and wide gates and choosing between two paths, would Jesus talk about False prophets and False Disciples? Because the road that leads to life isn’t an easy road, and there are many who, for one reason or another, fake it.

There are leaders, pastors, prophets in the churches and ministries both small and large...who want to fake it. They want to seem like they are on the path, but they are not. And there are “disciples” who want to fake it. They want to seem like they are on the path, but they are not.

And the danger is that those who are authentically following the narrow path can be led astray by the False Prophets and False Disciples.

We are still talking about choosing between two paths. One that leads us to destruction, and the other that leads us Life. But now Jesus is reminding us that there are those among us, both leaders and “disciples,” who would lead us away from the path of life. And part of being on the path means that we have to be aware and beware of the dangers and guard against them.

False Prophets

Jesus starts with False Prophets...because everything starts with who is in charge. And if the leaders are following a false gospel, then chances are the people are living a false gospel. Like it or not we are dependent upon our leaders. If it is okay for the leader, then it must be okay for me.

So Jesus says, Watch out for the false prophets/leaders because they look like sheep, but really they are ferocious wolves. These leaders look like they belong to the people of God. They know the right words and actions...but their intention is not to lead the people of God.

People become false prophets for many reasons. For some it is financial gain. Today, the “Christian” market is worth billions and billions of dollars. For some it is fame and recognition. For some, they just have false ideas about the Gospel, and begin to rewrite it to suit them and ask others to follow them.

These people do serious damage to the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus is talking about false prophets and describing them as ferocious wolves...these are teachers and leaders who are doing more than just making a mistake or having a doctrinal disagreement...they are leading the people of God away from the true Gospel.

And the biggest sign that a person is a false prophet or leader is by the fruit or righteousness of their life. The original Greek is very emphatic with this. It places the phrase “By their deeds” at the beginning of the sentence. By the deeds of the false prophets you will know they are false.

Just as a weed will not produce a beautiful flower and thistles will not produce grapes so false prophets will not produce good fruit because they are not connected to the life giving source of Jesus.

A good tree bears good fruit because it is healthy. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Unfortunately it is really easy to hide the bad fruit. Leaders do it for years. And some false leaders and prophets are able to openly flaunt their false gospel and people fall for it. Why? Because they don’t really know or want to know the truth.

Which is better to hear...God loves you and has a perfect plan for your life? Or, God has a master plan and He invites you to sacrifice all your hopes and dreams to see it accomplished?
Which is better...God wants us to be prosperous in our life? Or, God wants us to sacrifice our lives for His Kingdom?

Which is better...To get into heaven just say this prayer and you will know? Or, Follow Jesus, and take on His life and practices as your own?

False prophets and teachers have gotten really good at sounding like they are the real thing...they are ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing.

False Disciples

Though Jesus doesn’t come down as hard on false disciples, He doesn’t call them ferocious wolves or anything, He does make it perfectly clear that many, believing they are just fine, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom. They will be looking forward to a day when they will be with Jesus in His Kingdom, but they are wrong.

That sounds harsh to me. Because I want Jesus to be loving and kind and readily accepting of everyone. But this passage reminds us that many will call Him “Lord” with their lips, but the problem is their lives do not reflect His Kingdom or His righteousness. Many will have said the sinners prayer, but not really be His disciple. Some will have spent years in the church, in the ministry even, and not really be a disciple of Jesus.

What makes this passage even more difficult is the long list of things these false disciples claim to have accomplished... “...did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” That doesn’t sound like a list that would come from people who don’t know Jesus.

What is the primary sign that a person is a false disciple? They do not do the will of the Father.

They may do a lot of good things, but obedience is what is required.

If I ask Bri to clean her room, and she comes home and does the dishes, cleans up the dog poop in the backyard, vacuums the whole house...those are all good things, and really would be considered miraculous...but that is not what I wanted done.

Many believe that if they make the right sacrifices or do this or that good thing that they are in...but no good thing we do, no amount of sacrifice we make, will ever replace being obedient to God’s will.

And what a horrible thing to hear...”I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” What a sharp contrast to Matthew 25 where the true disciple is welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Those are the words I want to hear. I mean I think I’m doing some good stuff for God sometimes. I get words of encouragement from some of you. But there is no validation...nothing that can outdo hearing God say, “Well done!”

But the false disciple...those who have the words “Lord, Lord” on their lips, but don’t do the will of the Father will only hear...”I never knew you.”

Both of these descriptions false prophets and false disciples leave me asking a very big question...
How do we know the right thing when we see it?

We also have some tools to help us know the difference between the false prophets and disciples and the true prophets and disciples.

1. Spend time in prayer and in God’s Word.

We have this marker at work that we use to mark monetary bills to see if it is counterfeit or not. It hasn’t happened yet, but sometimes the marker will not work because a person has “washed” a real bill and redone it as a larger amount.

I’m not a good counterfeit identifier...especially if the bills are larger than a $10 because I rarely see money that big. But there are people who are master counterfeit identifiers. When these people are trained to spot counterfeit money they know that the best way to identify a counterfeit bill is to spend their time studying real money.

For us, we have the tools of prayer and God’s Word to help us determine what is real and what is false. The only way to really know a false prophet or recognize a false discipleship is to spend radical amounts of time in God’s Word and in prayer familiarizing ourselves with the original...the problem is we do not use these tools as we should, and even worse is that many of us think we know, but don’t.

I remember having one “discussion” with a girl who was a long-time Christians and considered by some a spiritual leader in the church. She was spouting all of this stuff she said was biblical and right. She was defending a couple of positions that are considered heretical by historical Christian standards. But then she says, “No where in the Bible does it ever use the word Christian!” There was more context to it than that, but this serves to illustrate. She was making a definitive statement about what the Bible meant by making that statement and defending a position that would fall apart if the word Christian actually showed up in the Bible...problem is she was completely and utterly wrong. It is used 3 times. When I mentioned her error she responded by saying, rather annoyed, “Well, I haven’t read the Bible all the way through yet!”

Now here are the problems with that...

She was making bold claims about what the Bible did and did not say without having spent time reading it.

She had been a “Christian” for years, and had as of that time actually read the one book God had given His followers to know Him and His Kingdom all the way through. I know she had read, probably hundreds, of other books by other Christian writers, but not the one book given to us by God.

We do not have to be biblical scholars. But we do need to spend time with God’s Word. We need to study it. We need to spend time praying for God to enlighten the passages so that we understand it. And the more we study and spend time with the original, the more we recognize the false.

False prophets sound really good, and they sound very biblical, and the only way to really know a false prophet or recognize a false discipleship is to spend radical amounts of time in God’s Word familiarizing ourselves with the original.

And when we are familiar with the original then we are able to best use our second tool

2. Watch for fruitfulness.

We can’t watch for true fruit if we are unfamiliar with what God says that fruit is...so we have to start with step one. But we also have to know what true fruit is.

There are many that would have us believe that true fruit is being successful or having the biggest church or the biggest bank account or having the most Bible knowledge or doing the most church stuff or whatever.

We can’t define or know fruitfulness until we spend time getting to know God deeply.

I have a firm belief about who will and will not make it in leadership here at Crossroads Vineyard. Ready? Here it is: Bible Knowledge and activity involvement do not replace Christian character & maturity.

Do you know why? Because sometimes the people with the most knowledge are some of the meanest people around. They are just waiting to thump someone with their knowledge or more accurately to point out how little you know. What this tells me is that while they have a lot of knowledge they have very little understanding. They haven’t allowed that knowledge to transform them into the image of God. They haven’t allowed it to make them more like Christ.

And involvement in activity...doing stuff for God can become a replacement for spending time with God. There are people that do all kinds of stuff for God...serving the poor and homeless...leading classes...setting up chairs, not that we don’t need people setting up and tearing down the chairs if you know what I mean...but all of this activity does not lead us to more maturity in Christ.

True maturity is seen in the person who demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit (take a look at Galatians 5) and are doing the will of the Father.

3. Be careful about the miraculous.

Jesus indicates in today’s passage that people who are not disciples, people who are actually far from God, people who do some pretty phenomenal things...are not really disciples. There are people building big ministries and churches, feeding the poor and healing the hurting, doing miraculous things in our world, and they are built on something false.

I know that is hard to believe. I find it hard to believe. How can someone who is false do those things? Here is what I believe. I believe that Jesus’ name will be praised and lifted up even in the hands of those who don’t really know Him. Jesus will accomplish His mission and purpose for our world even through those who would seek to do it harm.

I was sitting in a healing service a while back where people were coming forward, receiving prayer, and some pretty miraculous things were taking place. People with some pretty debilitating things were being healed. It was amazing.

What was most frustrating to me was that the speaker had just given one of the most idiotic messages I have ever heard from a pulpit. Misquoting scripture...I don’t mean just getting a word or two out of place, but really just making it up as he went along. In fact, he never actually opened the Bible to read from it. He made some statements about not being tied to the actual words of Scripture. I wanted to ask another person who’s opinion I valued, but he had already walked out because he felt what was taking place was sacrilegious. But people were in awe of this guy...what a message from God.

I was frustrated and confused about the whole thing until I realized people are changed, transformed, healed, and renewed...in spite of some “false teachers” rather than because of them. While they are doing it all for the wrong reasons...God is still able to work in people’s lives. Why? Because this is about God and His glory. This is about God accomplishing His mission. God will work.

4. Spend time in prayer and in God’s Word with others.

This is so important I just want to bring it up again, but add that we are never released to do this completely on our own. God gives us scholars, teachers, pastors, leaders, and fellow Christians to help us on our journey.

They have resources that we need to fully understand God’s Word and to hear His voice in prayer.

Me sitting alone in my office reading the Bible is not enough. I have to utilize others to help me understand what God is saying. I use commentaries and books and the Internet and other Christians who have taught this stuff before. God filters it through me, but I’m not alone in this.

If we believe that by just sitting alone and reading God’s Word we will fully understand it...we are badly mistaken. There are times and situations when that is true, but the way that God has set it up is that we are meant to do this Christian life in community. We are meant to depend on others.

It is a team effort.

Conclusion

Have you ever seen that game where you have to spot the difference between two pictures? It is basically the same picture, but some things have been changed and you have to figure out what it is? Sometimes the differences are glaring, but in some the differences are extremely difficult to find.

False prophets and false disciples are a lot like that. We are expected, through prayer and God’s Word and others, to figure out who is the false prophet and false disciples.

Yes we have to be careful of the whole splinter in their eye while the log is in mine, we have to take in to account the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching on judging others, we have to make some pretty close decision about mistakes and doctrinal differences versus blatant falsehood...but we are talking about our pursuit of the narrow road. And that makes it all the more important.


This message was preached at Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights, Ohio.

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