“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [Matthew 7:15]
The reign of heaven has broken into our world in power through Jesus Christ. And now, our Lord Jesus is in the process of bringing His Father’s saving righteousness to the world. Nevertheless, Christ and His church are still being attacked by enemies both from outside and from within His church; enemies who do not want God’s true Word proclaimed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus simply came out of heaven in power and destroyed the enemies of His church? But that is not how God has chosen to operate in this sinful age; no, God’s reign is coming to us every day in hidden ways, in an unexpected forms, that to this sinful world seem weak and meaningless. The ultimate expression of this message is the cross of Jesus, where God defeated sin, death, and the devil. Jesus’ disciples, you and me, will have to carry our crosses too. Jesus drank from the cup of suffering in a way we could never fully understand, but He also gives each of us who are baptized in to His death a cup of suffering that we too at times, must drink from as we follow him.
None of us enjoys suffering; we spend most of our lives trying to avoid it, and yet Jesus says that suffering will come our way if we are truly on the narrow way of salvation and eternal life. But isn’t there a way to avoid the suffering? The false prophets would like us to think so! They offer you a path opposite of Jesus narrow way, a very broad path, which they promise will supply the faithful with glory and prosperity right now in this sinful age.
So today, we will examine two ways of life, and two different kinds of prophets. One way is narrow and it is called the path of the cross and repentance, and the other way is broad, and it is called the way of glory. Which will you follow? How can you tell the true prophet of the narrow way from the false prophets of the broad way? Well, first let’s understand what God’s word has to say about prophets.
A prophet is a man who speaks on behalf of God and at God’s request.
He has a message to bring that comes from God, and it is the prophet’s business to see to it that the message is given clearly. It usually takes a good amount of courage on the part of the prophet to proclaim the message, because it’s not just in Jerusalem where the prophets are harassed and even killed by the very people God has sent the prophet to speak His true Word to.
A false prophet is a person who speaks about God and the will of God as though he knew all about these things, but in reality he does not, and in fact he is actually leading the people who listen astray. “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “I did not send them nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you… the deceit of their own minds.” [Jeremiah 14:14]
“And my people love to have it so,” is the statement God declares in another place. [Jeremiah 5:31] The falsifying of God’s message is usually in the direction of making it say what the people want to hear and not what God says they must hear. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed My Words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” [Jeremiah 23:22]
But it is not just in the Old Testament that we find mention of false prophets. In our second reading [Acts 20:27–38] and our Gospel lesson [Matthew 7:15–23], both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus warn us directly about them and speak of them as something that is to be driven out of the Christian church. They are rightly referred to as hungry wolves disguised as gentle lambs.
Here is an important truth worth remembering: Since the coming of Jesus, God no longer speaks to us through direct revelation; in other words, don’t look for a new message to be proclaim. What God would say to our generation is spoken through the Word and can be found there and only there. The same responsibility that lay upon the prophets rests now on those who are properly trained and called preachers and pastors of God’s Word. For pastors, it is a matter of faithfully and diligently speaking the message that God wishes us to proclaim.
Both Christ and the apostles warn us, that we the redeemed sinners who are gathered in Christ’s church have a strange eagerness to believe in false teachers who preach another message of prosperity; a message about a false Christ, and another false Gospel. God’s Word says that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” [2 Timothy 4:3]
False teachers sadly seem to always “have many followers,” [2 Peter 2:2], so the size of a congregation is no indication that the true Word of God is being proclaimed from their pulpits.
It is on the broad way of glory and prosperity that sinners will discover when it is to late that it’s path was in reality the broad road to Hell.
Jesus says to us this morning, that it is from the fruits of their preaching and teaching that you will know the false prophets. So what is their fruit? Well lets hold it up to the light of God and let Jesus show us.
These wolves in sheep’s clothing love to declare that God does not want us to suffer, so if you are suffering it is simply because you have not followed His will. Now lucky for you, this glory preaching, false teaching phony prophet will tell you how to live your life so you can reclaim the prosperity they say God wants to give you. Once you are comfortably under the false prophets control and traveling on their glory road they will also proudly proclaim to you that God also does not want you to be poor or sick, and if you are it is simply because you lack the right kind of faith. And yes, you guessed it, they will gladly preach to you and teach you about their kind of faith. I find it fascinating that there version of faith always involves some aggressive form of tithing and “giving until it hurts!”
You see dear friends the wrong unscriptural human centered prophets always start with what is seen and perceivable with our senses, and then from that perspective they proclaim a false understanding of the unseen spiritual reality of God. The false prophets always start from what is on earth and then they lead you to look to Heaven. Or another way to say this is that they believe that one may know the Creator by first celebrating creation. But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it turns over all questions and mysteries to Him. Notice, I did not say the unknown God, but only the hidden God. While God may be unseen he is very much known, and we all may know Him equally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the very visible and powerful Word of God!
Jesus Christ is both the true message of God and the true messenger of God.
The message of Jesus is always one of repentance; of turning to God through the narrow way of the cross, which also implies a turning away from the way of the world and it’s false promises of prosperity and glory. In other words, the only message that a true prophet of God must preach is one that insists that God is right and we are wrong. God’s narrow way of salvation is the only way to paradise and any other message or way is not only wrong but it consists of the very sin that separates us from God’s redemption for sinners, which is only obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ!
Dear friends, there is only one defense against the deceptions of the false prophets: the Word of God. And so it is necessary to have such an intimate knowledge with the whole Word of God that you can discern God’s truth from the errors that are peddled by the false prophets. The truth is that God does not wish that any sinner should perish, but that all of us would turn, repent, seek the cross of Christ that alone pays for our sins, and then follow the narrow way of Jesus until one day we are at home in paradise.
You started out on this narrow way of salvation when you were baptized. It was there where you were saved by grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, all because of Jesus Christ alone! Christ’s true church and His true messengers are called to continually feed your faith with this very same message. They are commissioned to encourage you to confess your sins as illuminated by Scripture so that they may do what the Holy Spirit has empowered them to do… absolve you of those sins. It is this message of repentance and forgiveness that the true prophets are commissioned to proclaim and no other! The true prophets must not deviate from it, because then they would be leading you down the broad false way that ends in eternal suffering.
Dear friends, who do you say Jesus is? The false prophets and glory preachers will tell you that He is the means to your blessing and prosperity here in this life, and then only as an after thought will they address the eternal life to come. This is a message that always finds its origin from within a sinful heart. But the message of the cross and the constant source of hope and faith for sinners is that Jesus alone is your Savior and God who promises and abundance of glory and prosperity not here in this sinful world, but there in your eternal home which Jesus has prepared and has waiting for you in heaven.
So this morning, I proclaim to you that you must stay on the narrow way of the cross; a way that will surely pass through both suffering and happiness. It is a way that is hidden from the eyes of false prophets. It is a path that may take you through both sickness and disease but it is leading you to eternal healing and restoration. It is the way of the cross; a cross that tests everything! And the way of the cross always ends in God’s love and power, as it passes through suffering, humility, and shame in the eyes of the world. But where it ends makes all the difference. Oh friends, nothing is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, that is waiting for us on the other side in God’s paradise which has been prepared for you! For you see, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2]
May God keep each of us on this narrow way and defend us from both the false prophets and their teachings. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!