Scripture Read: Matthew 7
Title: Sermon on the Mount (Pt. 3)
(H) Highlight verse: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheeps clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" Matthew 7:15 - 16
(E) Explain: We now come to the conclusion of Jesus' sermon. Even though this sermon spans three chapters it is important to note that these are not a series of sermons he gave, it is one sermon broken up into multiple parts. There are many topics in this sermon but they all flow together to show what discipleship looks like and how Christians should conduct their lives.
In chapter seven Jesus talks about judging one another, prayer and discernment. He begins by talking about judging one another. Once again Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. When Christians make judging others a way of life by always seeking out other peoples faults and never tending to their own is wrong. This becomes an attitude of self-righteousness. So the problem lies when we see the sins of others and fail to see our own sinful ways. Jesus has already brought to light that what matters most in these situations is the attitude of the heart.
Following along these same lines Jesus tells his disciples to be discerning and vigilant against false prophets. What is a false prophet? According to theologian Sinclair B. Ferguson, "The basic task of the prophet was to forth-tell, not jsut fore-tell, God's word. He was to explain and apply God's truth to the lives of the people in his own day, as well as speak about the future... Simply put, a 'prophet' was one who spoke from God. A 'false prophet' is one who falsifies God's word - either by openinly contradicting it, or, more likely, by twisting it's meaning."  False prophets are not easily exposed, they portray themselves as sheep, but are actually ravenous wolves. This means that they appear harmless from the outside but are in fact very dangerous.
Since these false prophets are present in Jesus' time (and in our time today) he gives us a way to help identify these dangerous and harmful individuals. Jesus tells us that we will recognize them by their fruit. The fruit being their words, works, and actions. He is saying that a false prophet will ultimately self-identify himself. The words he speaks and the actions he does will eventually reveal who he is.
(A) Application: When we go out looking for ways to judge people shows our motivations are wrong. However, Jesus does not suggest at all that when sin is present in a very visible way that we are to gloss over it and never acknowledge it. Matthew 18:15 - 17 says, "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that bythe mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." This is clearly a mandate to hold one another accountable.
This accountabilty carries over to those who are preachers, pastors, prophets, and church leaders. There are people in leadership positions in churches across the world who a like the false prophets Jesus speaks about. There are men and women who seem from the outside to be wonderful god-fearing people, but are dangerous people. They twist scripture, they cause division and factions in the church, and they do it subtly. I know I personally get frustrated when I see men and women, who are trusted by their congregations or followers, leading people astray and using the name of God to promote themselves and their agenda. But how do we expose these people? Well, in most cases we can't, they eventually expose themselves because of the rotten fruit they produce. We can warn people about false prophets, we can even expose them publicly, but usually our warnings go unheard and we get frustrated. But Jesus tells us clearly that the words and deeds of a false prophet will ultimately expose them. However, there are ways we can protect ourselves and have discernment in identifying false prophets.
Once again Dr. Sinclair B Ferguson writes, "How can we recognise these wolves and escape their harmful influences? Jesus sets before us several important principles."
(R) Respond: Lord, check my heart. May I never judge anyone with a prideful heart and self-righteous attitude. May I also have the discernment to identify false prophets in my sphere of influence. Most of all guard my heart so that I may have a Christlike attitude as live my life in obedience to you.
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