Jesus is drawing his sermon on how life in the Kingdom of God works to a close. We saw last week how Jesus began to conclude by saying that there are two roads to walk – a wide and easy one or a narrow and difficult one. The wide one has got lots of people on it, but it leads to hell. The narrow one has got few people on it and it leads to heaven. In this life, you and I choose, we choose the kind of life that we want to live, we choose the road that we want to walk. Jesus says many, in fact most people, even in the church, choose the wide and the easy one. They walk on it, oblivious of the great danger they are in. They’re on the road to hell.
Let me read a paraphrase of what John Wesley has to say on this subject: “Every person needs to be warned against this. To protect as many as possible against this spreading contagion, God has raised up ministers. He commanded his watchman to call out and show the people the dangers they were in. For this purpose, he sent prophets in their succeeding generations to point out the narrow way. They exhort all people not to be conformed to this world. But what if the watchmen should fall into this snare themselves, against which they are meant to be warning others. This is not an unheard of or an uncommon thing. God knows it is not. The instances of this are almost innumerable. We find them in every age and nation. How terrible it is when the ministers of God turn out to be the ambassadors of the Devil. It is miserable when those who are commissioned to teach the way to heaven to the people, do in fact teach them the way to hell. It is not without cause that Jesus solemnly cautions us against them.”
Listen to vs 15 again: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
Let’s have a look at who false prophets are,
then at what do they look like,
and finally how may we know what they are.
So, who are false prophets?
First of all it’s probably important to say who are prophets, what is a prophet? Prophets are not those who foretell the future. Prophets are primarily those who speak in the name of God. Obviously this applies to ministers but it also applies to anyone who teaches and who people listen to. So this would include Bible Study leaders, Sunday School teachers, etc. Of course, parents are prophets in their homes. Who else proclaims God in the home, but the parent?
False prophets are those who teach or encourage people to walk in the broad way.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has described the narrow way, the way of humility, the way of lowliness, the way of mourning, the way of meekness and of desiring to be holy. False prophets teach the opposite of these and all the other things that we’ve looked at in the Sermon on the Mount. A false prophet might say, “In such and such a situation, you don’t need to turn the other cheek.” Or, “You don’t really need to forgive that person.” Or they might say, “Such a person does not deserve mercy.” Or they might say, “In this situation, we must not make peace, we must make war! In fact, the only way to make peace is to make war!” Or they might say, “You don’t really have to love your enemy,” or, “You don’t really have to be holy – actually it’s not possible to be holy.” This is all false prophet talk.
A false prophet is someone who takes any little part of the teaching of Christ and says, “You don’t have to do that,” or says, “It doesn’t really mean what it says – here is an easier way.” Yes, it’s easier but it’s on the wide road and even though lots of other people are doing the same thing, it is the road to hell. Beware of false prophets!
What do they look like?
Jesus says here they look harmless, they are like sheep but inside, they are ferocious wolves. They don’t come in their true colours. If they did, we would see them for what they are. They will be like sheep with a mild and inoffensive manner. They have an appearance of usefulness. They seem religious. They can even seem to be loving. They might even have a collar on. They might have a title: reverend, bishop, society steward, church organist, home group leader. They look like everyone else.
So, how will we know them?
Jesus says you will know them by their fruit. If you want oranges, you need to go to an orange tree and for peaches you go to a peach tree. The tree affects and determines the fruit, doesn’t it? So, look and see what effect the gospel has had and is having on their own lives. Do they have the mind that was in Christ? Do they walk in his way? If they fall, do they quickly put things right? Do they attract others into the kingdom? You will know them by their fruit, says Jesus. Look for the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self control. Look for this fruit.
Should we have anything to do with false prophets?
It sounds as if we should have nothing to do with them at all, but let’s see what Jesus teaches. Remember what worldly wisdom is and what seems wisdom to the world is often Kingdom stupidity. And Kingdom wisdom often seems like worldly foolishness. Who were some of the falsest prophets in Jesus’ time? The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Many times Jesus confronted them and rebuked them and had names for them: “You white-washed tombs! You hypocrites!” That’s what he called them on occasion. But listen to what he says in Matthew 23, reading from verse 1: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses’ Law, so you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do. Do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don’t practice what they preach.” That was from the Good News Bible translation.
They were not bearing fruit in keeping with what they were teaching. So,…….. listen to them, says Jesus, but do not imitate them. Do not believe anything they say, and this now refers to false prophets. Do not believe anything they say unless it is confirmed by passages of Holy Scripture. Completely reject anything that differs from Holy Scripture and ignore whatever is not confirmed by Scripture. Reject especially anything that is contrary to what Jesus has taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let me close with this story from a newspaper this week (quite amazing when I realized that this is what I was preaching on this Sunday). It’s from one of our local tabloids in SA. The headline is, “Close your eyes while we rob you.” So-called prophets tell people to close their eyes so that they can pray together. But when the victims open their eyes after the last amen, their valuables are gone, along with the so-called prophets. And now the cops are warning people to be on their guard. Too many people who thought they were just praying have been tricked. The favourite loot of the self-styled holy men is cellphones and money. The victims are asked to take out their valuables and put them on the ground before prayers start. The prayers will solve all problems, the victims are told but the magic will only work if there is nothing in their pockets. And they close their eyes. So, keep your eyes open, warn the cops. They told the newspaper that reports of these cases were coming in from all around the greater Tshwane area.
There are false prophets everywhere. Maybe in your home, maybe in your Bible Study Group, maybe even in this pulpit.
Jesus says beware of them.
He says learn how to identify them.
He says judge them by their fruit.