Preached July 29, 2012
St. Matthew 7:15–21
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The beginning words of the Collect for the Day are, “O God, whose never–failing providence ordereth all things in heaven and in earth:…” God’s providence is His all seeing and all knowing care for us, His provision for our needs in this world. Because He is able to foresee all things, the Collect goes on to ask, “We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which be profitable for us;…” Notice the order of those requests. We cannot receive the good things until we have first been turned away from the things that are hurtful to us. We are not able to grasp that which is good, loving, and true while we hold to that which is evil. We ask that God guide us in the right way, away from those things that are hurtful to the soul and towards those things that are profitable to the soul.
In the Epistle lesson, we are reminded that we have a choice to make. God does not compel any man to be saved, and we must choose the way that we will follow. If we choose to follow the way of the flesh, then that choice leads inevitably to our eternal death. If we choose to follow the Holy Spirit, that is the choice that leads to eternal life. So we definitely have a choice to make.
This brings us to the Gospel lesson for the day, the matter of being wary of false prophets. Now the role of a prophet is to speak to God’s word to us, to lead us to God. It is evident that only a true prophet can fulfill this role; a false prophet will mislead people, sending them astray, away from God.
One evidence of the work of the false prophets is found in the Church itself. Look around you at the hundreds of different denominations, each with a doctrine different in some aspect, and each claiming that it has the truth. And yet we know that there is only one truth, the Truth, Jesus Christ Himself, and in Him we should have unity. This very diversity, a thing so greatly prized these days, is evidence of error, in some cases very serious error leading directly away from eternal life.
We might do well for a moment to consider some of the types of false prophets likely to be found around us today. In Jesus’ day, the prophet was a religious leader, and today there are false prophets within the Christian Church. Consider these examples:
● Many of the TV evangelists who become very wealthy in their “ministries” and betray their message by living very worldly lives;
● Pastor Joel Osteen in Houston with his “Prosperity Gospel;”
● The Church Growth Moment that has betrayed the hard truths of the Gospel in order to bring in “seekers,” with the goal simply to increase congregational numbers without any true Christian commitment.
There are others as well, people that we might not think of as being in a prophetic role, but they still presume to tell us how to lead our lives, so in some degree they take on a prophetic role at that point. Think for example of
● Dr. Phil and Oprah on the TV, giving advice to millions about how to structure their lives;
● Various psychiatrist, psychologists and counselors who give advice to people about how to rearrange their lives, sometimes in ways that may be profoundly ungodly.
Those are the ones that we can more or less take or leave at will, but there are others that are harder to avoid, such as the President and the Congress telling us how we must change our way of thinking, our way of living, to be the way they tell us with such things as ObamaCare and the many evils contained within it. These people often base their words not on God’s Word at all, but they still expect to be respected and obeyed as God’s agents.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Christ begins with the sharp call, “Beware!” because this is not an obvious danger but a subtle danger that He is talking about here. He says that the false prophets come in sheep’s clothing, meaning that they assume the innocence and piety of the flock, they look like they belong, even while their intent is to destroy the flock. This goes right to the heart of the problem. If they were out in the open, a clear cut enemy, it would be far less difficult to give instructions as to how to guard against them. But the false prophet is not out in the open, he is an infiltrator, he will appear to be one of us, only to subtly work to turn the people of God away from God. This is what makes it so very hard to protect against him.
If this is such a serious, yet subtle, problem, how are we to know who these false prophets are? Christ answers this in the next verse: Matthew 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? When someone claims to be speaking for God, we are to look at his life, his actions, his relations with other men. Is he known to be truly an honest man? Does he do today what he promised yesterday? Does he do the things people commonly understand when dealing with others, or is he known for “sharp dealing,” for splitting hairs, for finding the exceptions to the rule? The Words of God, the words we expect to hear from a true prophet, are like grapes or figs, good things, and are not to be had from thorns or thistles.
We may go so far as to say that, for the true prophet of God, his virtuous life will be clearly visible to all. No one will have to search to find it, but it will be clearly evident. When we find this man, we know that from him we will be able to hear God’s Word.
The future of the false prophets is also foretold here: Matthew 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Many will remember not too many years ago what happened to the highly corrupt TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and his wife Tammie Faye and how he was brought down and publicly disgraced. There are numerous others that could be mentioned that have met similar fates, so God clearly does cut down and cast into the fire those who are false prophets.
But there will no doubt be the question, “Well, what about the others, the ones that are still standing, doing their damage?” All that can be said is that God is not through with them yet. Remember the parable of the wheat and tares that come up together in the same field. The servants inquire if they should remove the tares, but the master tells the servants to let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest. They will be separated at harvest time and the tares then destroyed. So it is with the false prophets of our own time. He will take them down in His good time, even though it may leave us to wonder why it takes so long. We have only short term vision, while God sees for the infinite term; this is something we always have difficulty understanding.
The closing words of the Gospel sound a frightening warning: Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. This same thought is expressed in different words in our Epistle lesson for the day, Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. It is not what the would–be prophet says, his words, but what he does that counts, and the same thing applies to each of us as well. Only those who truly do the will of God the Father will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, and those are the ones whose lives are lived under the motivation of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot be too much on guard against mere profession of faith and party spirit which are great enemies of the truth and of love. Instead we must cultivate in ourselves humility and obedience, and we must help others to develop these things as well. This will help us to discern what is of God and what is not.
Remember the prophecy of Isaiah 35:8 And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. Jesus is telling us about this road, the road that leads to eternal life. He tells us not to listen to false prophets that suggest that we take the next turn–off because the new construction has made a much smoother four–lane by–pass. He tells us that most of the people will exit onto the new, four lane expressway, but that is the road to hell. The old road, the road to eternal life with Him in heaven remains narrow and bumpy, and many people will choose to look for an easier way. There is no easier way if we want to get to heaven. The old road, the way of holiness, is the only one that goes there.
The false prophet always has something to offer that is not from God because he is not truly sent from God. His teaching eventually leads away from God and to destruction. Beware of the false prophet.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.