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Sermon on the Mount
“What’s Wrong With This Picture”
Jesus is coming to the end of His Sermon on the Mount and His instructions to His disciples, and He does so with three warnings. So entailed are these that we’ll look at one per week starting with Jesus’ warning against false prophets.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV)
We see this same warning given by the Apostle Paul to the elders of the Ephesian Church.
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30 NKJV)
From these warnings we see three basic propositions.
A first glance we not going to be able to tell the false from the true.
But in the end their lives and words will betray them.
Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul liken these false prophets to ravenous and savage wolves hungry for blood, and the analogy isn’t by coincidence. Wolves are the natural and mortal enemy of sheep.
False prophets are responsible for tearing down a believer’s faith promoting division, strife, bitterness, and allowing for all kinds of perversion and ungodliness.
And so Jesus says to “beware.”
By coming in sheep’s clothing reveals they’re already in the church. This is confirmed when Paul said, “from among yourselves. Therefore we mustn’t be charmed by someone’s charisma, nor should we be enamored with degrees, that is, the initials behind someone’s name. Having letters attached to one’s name doesn’t make them the Holy Spirit, nor does it make them true prophets or even believers.
How then are we to know? Unfortunately we go about it the wrong way. We do it by observation rather than revelation.
We use our natural senses. We sniff and say they smell like a wolf. Next we look and see their coat is ragged with clumps of wool missing and we conclude it’s a cheap costume. So we attack.
Only afterwards, once it’s dead do we look for a zipper only to find out it doesn’t have one. It really was a sheep all along. It just had an unfortunate experience of getting mauled by a wolf and had come back to the fold to mend. And all we say is ‘Opps.’
Jesus, however, gives us another method. He says, “Don’t look at the outward.” Instead we’re to check out what’s going on inside, and we’ll know them by the fruit of their lives, because sooner or later a false prophet will show his or her true nature.
Unfortunately fruit takes time to ripen, and so we need to be patient and scrutinize prophets closely and critically. In this process we look their character and conduct, message and motives, and test the spirit.
What are the marks or the works of a true verses a false prophet. Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church outlines these well.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23a NKJV)
A true prophet will continue to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. A false prophet may start out with these qualities, but will over time mold in the form as the works of the flesh and will begin to spread.
It’s not always what a person says that reveals their true nature; but it’s also the way in which they say it.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, You shall have peace;’ and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’ For who has stood in the counsel of the Lord, and has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? … I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied but if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.” (Jeremiah 23:16-22 NKJV)
Jeremiah reveals both false and true teaching. He begins by revealing three major errors of the false prophet’s teachings.
They follow their own spirit and understanding having no real vision from God. What they say and teach has no basis of Scripture. In fact, it goes directly against the Scriptures.
Take for instance Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church.
From his own words he said he was praying for divine guidance as to which religion to join when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared before Him.
The Bible however says that the Father is spirit and no one can see Him and live. God said to Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20 NKJV) And Joseph Smith clearly lived after this encounter.
These entities said that Joseph was to join no religion because they were all wrong.
This means that Jesus was wrong when He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, Matthew 16:18.
Joseph Smith was told that he would be the inspired translator of the “Golden Bible” written upon golden plates found buried near Rochester, New York.
The Bible, however, says that no prophecy should be someone’s private interpretation. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 NKJV)
This was accomplished through a pair of spectacles given to him by the angel Moroni that are called the Urim and Thummin.
The Bible says that the Urim and Thummin were stones placed inside the breastplate of the High Priest and used for discerning God’s will, not for the interpretating of someone else’s words.
Finally when a closer examination of the Book of Mormon is undertaken along with the rest of the Mormon writings, it doesn’t match up to what’s written in the Bible.
They proclaim peace when no peace exists, only certain and inevitable destruction. In Jeremiah 23:19-20 it says,
“Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord has gone forth in fury–A violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked the anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart.”
These false prophets say everything is fine, and sin really isn’t sin at all. They teach the world is not headed for destruction, and we have the power to heal our land and to gain peace with one another, humanity living in harmony with itself and nature.
Jesus says, however, that the world’s peace and His peace are totally different.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27 NKJV)
The peace of the world is a cessation of war and violence, but it’s not a true or lasting peace. But the peace that Jesus gives is internal and eternal. It’s having peace with God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
It’s the philosophy best stated, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
It’s walking in accordance with the dictates of their hearts, thinking no evil will befall them. This is a teaching that says we can do anything and be anything we want. They teach there are no absolutes truths. They do say, however, that we must agree with their truths and if we don’t we’re intolerant, evil, and bad.
But the teaching of a true prophet is seen in Jeremiah 22:23.
“If they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.” (Jeremiah 23:22 NKJV)
From this there are two aspects of a true prophet’s teaching.
A true prophet must preach and teach the full counsel of God’s word, that’s what it means to stand in the counsel of God and to speak God’s word to the people. Nothing needs to be added to God’s word, that is, no extra books, writings, or prophecies.
Nor is anything to be deleted. This is usually seen when they say, “As far as the Bible is correctly translated.” The Bible warns against doing either of these.
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19 NKJV)
A true prophet accurately proclaims the true condition of humanity, which is what the Lord says that a true prophet does by turning people away from their evil ways, or sin.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23; 6:23a NKJV)
True prophets proclaim that there is no one who is righteous and that everyone falls short of God’s holy and righteous standards for life. They also proclaim God’s cure as the Apostle Paul goes on to say in Romans 6:23.
“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b NKJV)
Further, a true prophet speaks forth God’s law and God’s grace.
Why God’s law? The Psalmist said,
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7 NKJV)
The law tells us we’re sinners, so the law is our tutor leading us to Jesus Christ so we can be justified by faith, hence God’s grace.
“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24-25)
Once a person realizes they are condemned by God’s law, only then are they ready to hear the good news of God’s grace that Jesus Christ paid the price for our freedom from sin and death, and by believing in Him our sins will be forgiven and we can have eternal life in heaven.
And so a true prophet teaches the full counsel of God’s word along with humanity’s true condition.
There is one last test, one last aspect that we need to scrutinize and that is we are to…
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3 NKJV)
We are to test the spirits because there are many false prophets.
To test a prophet in the Old Testament was by the outcome of their prophecy. If it didn’t come true they were false. A good method except sometimes the prophecy was for some time in the future, and while we wait for the outcome a lot of damage could occur.
God, however, gave a great test, the content of the message. Did it encourage people to follow and worship another God, or the Lord God of the Bible? So what a prophet says matters more than whatever supernatural sign that may have been produced to support it. (Remember the magicians of Pharaoh’s court did similar signs to those wrought by God through Moses.)
A true prophet would then be someone who says, “Don’t believe it because I said it; rather check it out for yourself, and then believe it because God’s word says it.”
John gives the acid test to this saying that someone who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is false. A true prophet must believe and support the incarnation, Jesus Christ coming in the flesh.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-2, 14 NKJV)
This last test would then disqualify the Jehovah Witnesses who don’t believe Jesus Christ is God. They believe that Jesus Christ was a spirit person; that while He was a god, He wasn’t Almighty God, Jehovah.
What I find fascinating is that to say that Jesus Christ was a god goes against their teaching that says there is no other god but Jehovah, so to say that Jesus was a god is in direct violation to their doctrine of God.
The Jehovah Witnesses also believe that Jehovah raised Jesus as a spirit being, and while he was put to death in the flesh, he was made alive in the spirit.
This completely disregards Jesus when He said, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39 NKJV)
And so we’re told to test and check out those who are teaching God’s word. We’re told to be like the Bereans who checked everything that was said by God’s word, Acts 17:11.
In the end, even if someone looks like a Christian, and sounds like a Christian, it doesn’t mean they are a Christian, they could very well be a false prophet.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study