“Watch out for False prophets!”
That was the theme of today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 7:15.
How high does that passage rank on your list of all time favorite Bible passages?
Did you have it memorized?
Does it hang on your wall?
Do you have it written on your favorite mug?
Has it ever been on one of those pictures of a scenic landscape with a Bible passages written in a fancy font that you post on your wall on Facebook?
Anybody have that as a confirmation verse?
Probably not, huh?
Yet…Jesus spoke it. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write it down. It’s a command and it’s important.
We’ve talked about setting our hearts on things above, using our voices to speak God’s plan, and taking our minds captive to God’s Word. Today we’re going to talk about what Christ would have us do with our eyes. Watch out for false prophets!
I. Why is This a Big Deal?
Now you may be thinking, “Why is this a big deal? Why are we going to spend time talking about this?”
Maybe, you picture a false prophet as some obviously off the wall, loopy guy whom you would never listen to – like David Karesh, Nostradamus, or Lord Voldemort.
But it’s not that simple. Listen to what Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing….”
Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Watch out for false prophets. They’ll be easy to spot, because they’ll look just like wolves.” Not so much. They’ll look like sheep. Innocent. Cute. Harmless.
They’ll smile nicely when you meet them. They’ll wear nice looking suits. They’ll take residence in nice looking churches. They’ll have books in the “Christian” book store. They have a weekly sermon spot on the “Christian radio station.” They wear nice priestly, very religious looking robes. They may even be have a nice, Christian sounded title.
You know. Like “the pope.”
Spotting false prophets is tricky. They look cute, but they are so dangerous. Jesus says, “They are ferocious wolves.”
This, by the way, is long before Looney Tunes came along and gave us this picture of a goofy, cartoonish wolf bungling around as he fails to capture any sheep and gets an anvil dropped on his head. False prophets are way more dangerous than that.
Jesus calls them ‘ferocious’. Vicious. Sometimes knowingly, othertimes, unknowingly, their false teachings rip at the flesh of your faith. They tear your respect for God’s Word apart. They feed on your respect for the truth of God’s Word until there isn’t any left.
This is a BIG deal.
To illustrate how bad a false prophet is, I’d ask you to think about Satanism. It is probably one of the most open and obvious forms of false teaching out there. It’s so bad that even Atheists recognize it as ‘no good.’
Yet, there aren’t that many Satanists. It’s way less than .1% of the population. This means that there are way more unbelievers on the road to hell who listen to leaders that look and act like ‘good’ religious leaders…that look and act like “Christians.”
o Churches that teach “Jesus died, but you need to do good to earn your way to heaven.” Causing people to despair until they no longer have any faith that Jesus can save them.
o Churches that teach “it doesn’t matter what you believe." Then one dangerously assumes it doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus or not…so he stops. Which is quite different from what Jesus taught.
o Churches that teach, “Don’t worry. That’s not a sin. God didn’t mean it when he had his people write it down.” Leading all kinds of people to ignore and refuses the very words of “Christ” that the leader claimed to support.
Churches that teach: “There is no hell and that sin you’re doing isn’t really that bad and you won’t suffer for it,” People believe it. Live in relief. Stop worrying about faith and Jesus so much. Then, they die…and find out that teaching was false as they are, in fact, in this not so ‘non-existant’ hell.
Do see why WATCHING OUT for false teachers is big deal? It keeps you safe from destructive teachings that will work to try and destroy your faith – which, if faith isn’t there…leads to eternal destruction!
II. How Do I Identify Them?
Now that we see the reason for watching out, Jesus goes on to explain how to watch out for false teachers. In verse 16 he says, “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.”
If you plant carrots, but the plants grow up and don’t produce carrots. They aren’t carrot plants. If instead, they give you painful, itchy sores, they are poison ivy!
This is more than good gardening advice. You recognize false teachers by their works and by their words.
If the Christian teacher you are listening too isn’t teaching ‘Christian things’, then his teaching may be false. If the Christian teacher you are listening to is repeatedly doing non-Christian things in his worship service, then his teaching may be poison.
*If the Christian organization you have joined is doing non Christian things with it’s money…
* If the Christian book you are reading urges you to do non Christian things with your life…
* If the Christian camp you want to send your kid to teaches things that aren’t true to your kids…
Remember: A “good” tree cannot bear “bad” fruit.
III. How Common a Problem is It?
Perhaps you get that false teaching is a problem. But you aren’t convinced that it happens all the often. It seems awful, but…it could never happen to you. You won’t be hurt by false doctrine.
But listen to how common Jesus says it is: “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. 22 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?’ 3 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."
Look at verse 22 again. Suddenly, false teaching doesn’t sound so uncommon. According to verse 22, “Many…many" will pretend to be Jesus’ followers. Many will teach falsely. Many will believe falsely. Many will say they are Christians, that aren’t. Many will look like believers that aren’t. May will think they are doing the will of the Lord, but that very Lord won’t even know them.
So, Jesus is telling you watch out! False teaching is common. Especially in our hyper information world. It’s so easy to see something or hear something and think it’s good, simply because it has the name “Christian” on it.
Watch out! Watch out! Watch out! False teaching it’s everywhere!
IV. How Do I Combat It?
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been awake long enough my eyes start to get tired. They sometimes, literally, start burning. Tired of watching.
Defending against false teaching sounds tiring. It’s such a big deal and so common that it seems impossible to defend against it!
Which can lead to what is probably the number 1 reason for not avoiding false teaching. Not “I don’t know enough about the Bible,” not, “They’re pretty tricky about it,” rather
Too much time? Can making sure that your soul isn’t being poisoned by false teaching which works to destroy faith that, if it is destroyed, could land you in everlasting hell really, ever take up TOO MUCH time?
I don’t think so.
Repent. Turn from the lethargic, "I don’t think false teaching is a big deal”-like attitude to the one in whom there is nothing false. Turn to the one who spoke the truth and is the Truth.
And the truth about the Truth is this: He loves you. He died for you. He rose from the dead. He says that those who trust in him will be forgiven. Forgiven for falling to false teaching. Forgiven for not taking false teaching seriously. Forgiven for not spending the time to defend against false teaching.
Brothers and sisters, this your truth too. Believe it. Turn to Jesus.
He isn’t a wolf at all. Rather he is the precious lamb of God—without blemish or defect. He died to save you. He doesn’t want to tear you apart. He wants to build you. He wants to make you new. He wants you to spend eternity with him in heaven.
Listen to what he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Brothers and sisters, stand on the rock. Stand on the words of Jesus. Stand on the true promises of his grace.
In other words: read the Bible
The more and more you read the Bible, the easier it will be to defend against false teachings. It will be easier to recognize them. It will be easier to guard against them. It will be easier to speak against them. It will be easier to teach your kids the truth!
This means investing time. More than once a month at church. Probably more than once a week too.
It means immerse yourself in Jesus. Weekly church attendance. Weekly Bible study attendance. Daily Bible reading. Read the Bible and you will stand on the Rock.
And when you’re on the rock, it’s a lot easier to watch out.
This is why lighthouses, and there are a lot of them in North Carolina, are built on rocky cliffs. They are higher up and allow people to look in the distance and watch.
On the rock that is God’s Word, you will see false prophets come. You will be able to defend against them. You will be able to avoid them.
And as you are watching for false prophets, one day you will see the true prophet, Jesus Christ coming into the world. He will return to take us away from the scary world of false teaching. He will, in truth, take you home to heaven to be with him –where there are no ferocious wolves—only the loving embrace of your heavenly Father.
So…keep looking. Keep watching.
He’s watching over you.