Matthew 7:15-23 There are a number of frightening scenes of God’s judgment in the Bible: Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden with a sword-bearing angel blocking their way back; the flood of Noah’s day destroying every living thing except those on the ark; and the ground opening up and swallowing the disobedient and rebellious at Korah.
There are many, many others—but for me, this scene of the final judgment that we have before us today in our Gospel lesson is one of the most frightening-- for there is no chance for repentance for those being judged and the fiery punishment is eternal.
On one side is heaven and an eternal life of joy and blessing with God. On the other side is hell—an eternity of torment in fire. Before the multitude stands Jesus Christ—not as the babe of Bethlehem—not as the gentle rabbi—not as the suffering man of the cross—but as the king of kings and lord of lords and righteous judge whose holy eyes see directly into souls of those assembled before him for judgment.
The people going into the eternal fire had always—even in that late moment—regarded themselves as God’s people. They used religious words. They did religious works. Jesus said that there are many of these kind of people who saw themselves one way-- while God saw them differently.
They thought they knew God—but Jesus never knew them—and he judged them guilty of lawlessness and sent them into the eternal fires of hell from which there is no escape.
That alone is frightening—but the really frightening thing is that right up until that moment they were cast into the lake of fire—they thought everything was fine between them and God—but they were profoundly deceived about that which is most important—their relationship with God.
How had they come to that place of fiery eternal punishment from which there was no return? How could they have avoided it altogether? These are the questions that Jesus answers for us today. He said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
The Bible says in Romans chapter ten that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God and in the first chapter of James the Bible says that that God brought us forth by the word of truth and in the first chapter of I Peter the Bible says that that we have been born again by the living and abiding word of God.
That is how important the truth of God’s Word is—it is a matter of our eternal salvation—that we would know the truth rather than lies about our life with God and be born again to a true and living faith in Jesus.
Conversely, that is the deadly danger of false prophets-- for they do not bring the saving truth of God words--but lies that deceive people to eternal damnation.
What is truly frightening about false prophets is that they are found WITHIN the church. Not every person who holds themselves out as a pastor and teacher can be trusted to tell us the truth and lead us to heaven.
Not only is it possible that someone is a false prophet—Jesus tells us that there WILL BE false prophets that we have to beware of. Paul said the same thing—that there will come a day when people in the church will not endure faithful teaching but will flock to pastors and teachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear.
Jesus says these false prophets come in “sheep’s clothing”—in other words they intentionally try to fit in with the flock of the Good Shepherd—presenting themselves as harmless—cloaking themselves in the trappings of Christianity-- while all the time they are absolutely deadly to our life with God because they do not bring us the truth—but lies that lead to destruction.
But as dangerous as they are and as deceptive as these false prophets are—they can still be recognized—not by their outward appearance (which they try to hide)—but by what they say. Jesus says:
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
When it comes to false prophets, Jesus says that we are to do two things: watch out for them—that is, believe him when he says that they exist within the church and be on the lookout for them—and secondly, we are recognize them for who they are—in other words, we are to be discerning in who we listen to and measure their teaching by the perfect standard of God’s Word.
False prophets are deceptive and they are dangerous but Jesus expects us to be on guard against them and be able to recognize them by examining their fruit.
The fruit of a prophet—be he true or false—is what he teaches—not how he seems on the outside, not how pious he acts, not how great is his following or how beautiful his sanctuary, not even if he is able to do miracles—but whether or not what he preaches and teaches is exactly what the word of God says—no more and no less—in big things and small. That is the measure of a prophet.
You will notice that Jesus assumes that his followers will know enough of the Bible to make that determination—that they are to be as familiar with the great truths of the Bible as they are with the everyday things in the world around them.
He used the example of the plants and trees that they were familiar with. If he were here today he would remind us that we don’t look for peaches on
trees and we don’t look for grapes on Catclaw and neither should we look for
anything good from a false prophet who cannot bring himself to simply teach
God’s Word as it is written.
But many people do that very thing. There are countless millions of people who call themselves Christians who sit in pews Sunday after Sunday or in front of a Television listening to some false prophet who, in the name of Jesus, teaches lies.
They listen to him because of the fancy church he preaches in. They listen because he’s an excellent speaker and draws great crowds. They listen because he is reported to do miracles. But no matter how impressive the outward trappings—Jesus knows which prophets are his own and which are not-- and those who are not can only expect his fiery judgment. Jesus says:
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
In James chapter 3 the Bible says that “not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” and Moses writes in Deuteronomy that the false prophet who speaks his own words in God’s name—even if he is a miracle worker—is to be put to death for he has led a rebellion against God.
This is how the Lord regards false prophets—as destroyers and deceivers of his people—as rebels against his rule—and his judgment is that they should suffer the fires of hell because of their lies that lead men away from God and destroy their souls.
And so it is not just the false prophets who will be subject to the fires of hell—it is also those who listen to them and believe their lies.
Jesus says to all who would follow him: you WILL recognize them by their fruits. Whether it is because of moral laziness or doctrinal laxity, the Lord will not excuse those pew sitters who listen to-and believe-false prophets. Jesus says:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Jesus tells us plainly that every person won’t go to heaven. Not every person who uses religious words or does religious works is going to heaven. The fact of the matter is, not even every person who calls Jesus “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.
And so who can be confident about going to heaven? Who is the person who can be absolutely certain that they have a place in God’s kingdom? Jesus says it is the person who does the will of his heavenly Father. And what is his heavenly Father’s will?
As Jesus travelled up to
for the Feast of Tabernacles the crowd of pilgrims asked him: “What
must we do, to be doing the works of God?
And Jesus answered them, “THIS is
the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” He went on to tell them: “This
is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in
him, should have eternal life.”
The will of the Father in heaven for you—the way that leads to eternal life—is to believe in Jesus—to trust that his death and resurrection is the way to heaven—that his righteousness counts in God’s sight for your salvation.
That is the only way of salvation and those who trust in Jesus have nothing to fear-- but those who have listened to the lies of false prophets—those who do not believe in Jesus—those who do not do the Father’s will--will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said:
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
These people who are cast into the eternal fires of hell are people who thought they knew God. They used religious sounding words and they did religious seeming works.
When they discover that they are headed for hell rather than heaven you could knock them over with a feather so completely have they been deceived about what life with God is all about.
We should take this warning from Jesus to heart!
We live in a religiously pluralistic culture where we are told that it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe, and that way of thinking has infiltrated the church.
We live in a time and place where the truth is considered relative rather than objective so that even in the church people are embarrassed to take up the Bible and say “this is what God’s Word teaches and if you believe differently you are mistaken and if you teach others differently you are misleading them.”
Jesus calls us to resist these cultural forces and the lies of false prophets with all our might and do the will of the heavenly Father by looking to Jesus and believing in him as our one and only Savior from eternal death in hell.
It is only these who can be certain that they have a place in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.