This sermon is number 25 in a series of 27
The Sermon On The Mount - Part 25
"False Prophets: Their Projection and Their Production"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now if you care to turn with me to Matthew's gospel chapter 7 for our reading again, and you remember last week - I may have confused you by announcing that it was the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, it is the Lord's conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, but I don't intent to finish our studies for another couple of weeks. We entered last week into the Lord's official conclusion, if you like, of this Sermon that He preached in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew's gospel that we've been following in so much detail over 25 weeks or so. We're reading on from verses 13 and 14 from last week, we'll take time to read them too to get the flow of the Lord's thoughts - and again it is the word of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them".
I want to speak to you today on 'False Prophets: Their Projection and Their Production'. False prophets, their projection and their production. If a prophet is a forth-teller of the word of God, and a foreteller of the word of God, which we know from the Old Testament specifically - he is one who foretold the future, being inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, God told him things that should happen specifically in the land of Israel toward God's people. He was a foreteller, but he also was a forth-teller: God gave him His word, and in a naked sense, a blunt A-B-C sense, he was one who told the word of God, and declared the word of God, and communicated what God had given to him. So if that's what a prophet is - a forth-teller and a foreteller - we can then see that the antithesis, the false prophet, the opposite of a prophet, must be a man who misrepresented God; a man who told either his own words or the words of the devil or a demon, but certainly not the words of God.
The verses that we have read together today of the Lord Jesus in this Sermon assume that we understand first of all the existence of false prophets, there are false prophets in the world and indeed in the church. One biblical writer says: 'There is no sense in putting on your garden gate the notice 'Beware of Dogs', if all you have at home is a couple of cats and a budgerigar'. There's no sense in the Lord saying: 'Beware of false prophets', if they don't exist, if there's no such a thing as a false prophet. The Bible tells us a great deal about false prophets, they're familiar both in the Old Testament and in the New. If you go to the Old Testament you find in the law in Deuteronomy chapter 13 verses 1 to 5 that there God laid down at the very beginning that if a man came into Israel and preached something that was not of God, he prophesied something that was to come to pass and it did not happen, he was to be stoned because he was and is a false prophet. It was very dangerous to be a prophet if you got something wrong, and it was dangerous to be a false prophet if you were found out.
So we have, right at the very beginning of the Old Testament, a definition of what a false prophet and false prophecy really is. We find, as we go through the Old Testament, that false prophecy was motivated not by loyalty to God - which was the motivation for true prophets - but rather motivated by a desire for popularity in themselves. In other words, it was motivated by pride. Recently we've been looking in the book of Ezekiel, and his contemporary who was in Jerusalem prophesying at the time. Ezekiel was in a concentration camp by the river Chebar, and at the same time Jeremiah was in the city of Jerusalem telling the folk that they were going to be deported and exiled, and the city was going to be destroyed. As Jeremiah was preaching that destruction was coming, and judgement was coming, and the Babylonians were God's instrument to come and to sack the city and take the people away to Babylon for 70 years, while he was prophesying true things, false prophets were rising all around in Jerusalem - one in particular called Hananiah - who were saying that what Jeremiah was saying was wrong, and that there would be 'Peace, peace', but God said: 'There is no peace'.
In fact, Isaiah faced the same thing. We read in Isaiah 30 and verse 10 that the people said to the prophets, to the seers: 'See not' - don't see these things, 'Prophesy not unto us right things, but speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits' - literally 'Tell us lies! We don't want to hear what you're saying, so tell us what we want to hear'. These false prophets, motivated by their own desire for popularity and their own self-conscious pride, they prophesied to the people what they wanted to hear. But not only were they motivated by their own popularity, but to a large extent they were motivated by nationality, they were motivated by an appeal to national pride. 'We're God's people, we're Israel, we've got the temple, we've got the law, we've got the covenants, we've got the land - don't come and tell us that God's going to judge His own people, we're His! The people of God's name!'.
Thirdly, not only was it motivated by popularity and by nationality, but it was served by their own selfish self-interest. They wanted money, many of them. Balaam is one example of that, and you can go right through the whole of the Old Testament: men and women, false prophets who were only motivated by their own desire for popularity, by nationality, and finally by their own greed. So in the Old Testament we see a simple definition of what a false prophet is and what motivates him. He's self-centred, he's wrongly motivated, he's detached from reality and what God is really saying to the people. Then we go into the New Testament, and the first occurrence that we have in reference to false prophets is in the Sermon on the Mount here in Matthew 7 and verse 15. The Lord says: 'Beware of these false prophets'. Then in Matthew 24 verses 11 and 24, the Lord Jesus tells us that in the last days, specifically during the tribulation period, there would be false Christs who would arise up and try to deceive even the very elect, Christians who are in the world at that time, and indeed the Jews.
As we go through the epistles later on at the end of the New Testament we find that the early Church must have been absolutely plagued with such false pseudo-prophets, for nearly in every apostolic letter that we have it contains a severe warning against pseudo-false prophets. In some of the letters they are called the Greek word 'pseudo-propheton' (sp?), pseudo-prophets literally, and that's the word that is used in Matthew 7 and verse 15. A prophet was one who was inspired by God, and these 'pseudo-propheton' were saying that they were inspired by God, but falsely so. It's similar to another word that you find in the New Testament 'pseudapostoloi' (sp?), pseudo-apostles, false apostles - in 2 Corinthians 11 verse 13 we find that title. Those who weren't just claiming inspiration, but they were claiming apostolic authority, that God had put His hand upon them to decide things within the church of Jesus Christ, and to teach the word of God and lay down doctrine. A similar term in the Greek is 'pseudo-dedascaloi' (sp?), pseudo-teachers. You've got pseudo-prophets, those saying they're inspired; pseudo-apostles, those saying that they're institutionalised of God to direct the church and to lay down doctrine; and 'pseudo-dedascaloi' are pseudo-teachers, those who are coming in and saying: 'Now, I have a message from God that God wants you to know'.
It's the word we find in 2 Peter 2 verse 1, where Peter says: 'But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers', pseudo-dedascaloi, 'among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction'. We don't have time to look at all of these titles, but you have false brothers spoken of, false speakers, false witnesses, and even in Matthew 24 we have pseudo-Christoi - false Christs! Those who the Lord said would pretend to be Messiah, those who John said in 1 John 2 verses 18 and 22 would deny that Christ had come in the flesh, and they would try to dupe and pervert even the Christians among them.
Now you will notice that all these Greek words have the word 'pseudo', or 'pseuda', at the front of them. We have that word in our English language: 'pseudo'. It literally means in the Greek 'a lie', something that is false, something that is sham - and that is exactly what the word means in our language today. Now let me give you another insight into these false prophets, turn with me to Acts chapter 20. Now we're going to take some time to go over this, because I think it's so relevant and so contemporary to the age in which we're living, so bear with me as we go through the word of God this morning. Paul charges to the elders of the church of Ephesus a great warning against false prophets. In verse 26 of chapter 20 he says: 'Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed', beware, 'therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears'.
Paul is warning, day and night, the Christians with his own tears that false prophets would come into the church, would arise from within the church, and his clarion cry - like our Saviour's - is: 'Beware!'. The 'Didache', if you know anything about the history of the Christian church, was really the first order book that Christianity developed in AD100. It lays down really what Christians did in the very early Church. It tells us that Christians are to beware if any prophet or any preacher remains in their town or in their home over three days, and it says that if he remains there over three days he is a false prophet. It goes on to say that if any of them ask anything more than bread, he is a false prophet. If anybody asks for money, or orders a table before him, a meal to be set forth, and begins to demand things other than necessary bread and water, he is a false prophet. If he stays in your home and he has no trade, refuses to work but sits there all day, you get him some work! And if you can't get him any work, in other words he won't work, he is and I quote 'a trafficker in Christ, beware of such!'. A trafficker in Christ, in other words using Christ for his own ends.
The motivation is popularity, the motivation is selfish ambition, he's detached from reality. He's self-centred, self-interest is his driving force, and a desire for his own popularity, to tell people what they want to hear. It was like that in the Old Testament, and we find that Paul says, near the end of the New Testament in 2 Timothy 4:3 and 4, that it will be the same in the early Church and indeed in the last days - 'For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears', like an itchy ear, they want it scratched by the prophet who will tell them what they want to hear, 'And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables'.
Now why, in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, does the Lord now address this very strange and odd subject, you might think. The reason why is simply in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, as He's been going through particularly chapter 7 talking about holy living, and the fine line that there is between hypocrisy and a real holy life, He's been talking about fasting, praying, almsgiving, and all sorts of things - He stuck a dagger into those who were motivated to be seen of men! Do you see the relevance now? After talking in the verses that we looked at last week, in verses 13 and 14 about two ways, He is saying there will be false prophets who will come to you and say: 'No, no, there's not just two ways, there's not a narrow way and there's not a broad way, but there are many ways - or there's only one way you'll be saved in the end, it's a wide gate, it's a broad way, and it doesn't lead to destruction but it leads to true satisfaction'. You can see why He's introducing the subject of false prophets here in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.
It seems in the context that the Lord considered the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were listening to His Sermon, and who He indirectly pointed this Sermon to, and was warning His own disciples against their type of righteousness - it seems that they are the blind leaders of the blind, who are the false prophets even here in this passage. So you see the context, I hope you can. A false prophet will be like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, they will portray a hypocritical, ostentatious, self-righteousness, but they will have no inward life, no vital relationship with God, and no true righteous fruit emanating from their life. His external profession will not be supported by an internal production. His verbal and ritualistic projection of righteousness will not bring forth a vital and real production of holy fruit in his life. Essentially the kind of godly characteristics that we've seen in chapters 5 to 7 of the Sermon on the Mount will be absent from the false prophet.
So He's given us a warning not to be deceived, that there will be false prophets - in fact there are false prophets out there. The second thing the Lord does in this statement is that He tells us how we can recognise them: their existence, and secondly their identification - they are recognisable. This is what I want to leave with you, the first point is this: you will be deceived by false prophets if you judge them by their projection. You will be deceived by false prophets if you judge them by their projection. Secondly, you will recognise false prophets if you judge them by their production.
Let's look at the first point. Whenever the stern demands of verses 13 and 14 were given, the demands of true discipleship: take up your cross and follow Christ - the false prophets were inevitably going to arise and promote the wide gate, preach the wide gate, preach the wide way; and that's the connection between verses 13 and 14 and the rest of this passage. They will preach to go on the wide way, to go through the wide gate; and if you're going to avoid the wide gate and the wide way, you're going to have to be deaf to the false prophets. So the Lord says: 'Beware of the false prophets', literally in the Greek language, 'Hold your mind away from these false prophets'. Take your mind, and if they're near your mind, or they're starting to get into your mind, hold your mind away from them. They are there to put us on the broad road, and to keep us from the narrow way. They are there to water down truth until, as C.H. Spurgeon said, there is not enough truth left to make soup for a sick grasshopper!
You will be deceived, my friend, by false prophets if you judge them by their projection - what they project to be before you - simply because the Lord says their appearance, verse 15, is deceptive. You'll be deceived by what they project to you because their appearance is deceptive. The first reason He gives is in the first part of verse 15: they come in sheep's clothing. The first way they deceive you is externally they wear sheep's clothes. Now these aren't the pigs and the dogs that we found in chapter 7 and verse 6, because they're easily recognisable as pigs and dogs by their habits. These are people, the Lord's saying, that creep in unawares - Christians make the mistake of thinking that because they look like sheep they are sheep, and then eventually after a period of time their true character is declared - but it's too late, and the damage has been done to the other sheep. Jude talked about these people, he said: 'For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ'.
Now there are three possible meanings of the sheep's clothing that you can know these false prophets by. The first is the obvious one: they're portraying to be believers, they're portraying to be the sheep of God. They present themselves as insiders, they're disguised as sheep. But a deeper and a second meaning is that they are impersonating not specifically sheep, but impersonating shepherds. You might say: 'Well, that's not what the text says', but if you look a little deeper the word for 'sheep's clothing' may refer to a woollen garment that was worn by the shepherd in Palestine. In fact, when the shepherd watched his flocks upon the hillside, his garment was one of sheepskin, and he used to wear it inside out so that the fur and the wool was inside and the leather was outside. The prophets too, when we go into the Old Testament, we find they wore a similar garment - in fact, Elijah wore what was called a mantle, which we find was a hairy cloak, 1 Kings 19. Zechariah, referring to false prophets, says a very interesting thing about them: they wear a rough garment to deceive. In other words, the false prophet wears a rough garment that ordinary prophets would wear to show that they are a prophet, and they deceive by wearing sheep's clothing, or literally shepherd's clothing.
It's interesting that in Luke chapter 20 verse 46, the Lord says of the Scribes and the Pharisees that they desire to walk around in long robes. There were those who were appearing not just as sheep, but as shepherds - prophets - as apostles, wanting to deceive the people of God, but underneath the cloak they were anything but sheep or shepherds. The third definition of what this sheep's clothing is, and what it really means, could be the simple way they come to the people - their gentle, plausible exterior. How persuading they are! They come after verses 13 and 14, and they say to the people: 'Look, this gate, it's not narrow it's wide. This way is not narrow, it's wide'. They're so kind, they're so polite, they appear such righteous men, they don't seem as violent as the disciples in their pursuit of the kingdom of God, and they teach this easy message to people, and people say: 'Ach, it must be true! It must be true!'.
In Ezekiel chapter 13 we have an incident of just that, we're not going to go into much detail, but if you remember our studies in Ezekiel we found that some of the false prophets, God condemned them because they were prophesying out of their own hearts, from their own spirit. God said: 'They speak lying divination', and in verse 22 of chapter 13 of Ezekiel God says: 'With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life'. You've commended those who are doing wickedness for their wickedness, told them they'll have life; and you've condemned the righteous who are doing what I want them to do, who will have life, you're telling them that they'll have death. What is that other than the narrow way and the broad way?
The point that the Lord is making, talking about sheep's clothing, is that the false prophet does not advertise his falsehood. He comes as a preacher of truth, often with the language of the orthodox faith - and He's saying we, as disciples, must be discerning and never judge people by their projection. Never judge them by their qualifications, or their degrees, or their positions, or their titles - we should never believe what the preacher, or the pastor, or the minister says because of who they are, for the Lord says that if the blind lead the blind both will fall into the pit! But rather, the Lord says, we are to look underneath the fleece to see who these people really are. That is why John said: 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world'.
You will be deceived if you judge them by their projection, because externally they wear sheep's clothing. But secondly, the second half of verse 15, also internally they are ravenous wolves - inwardly they are wolves that want to tear the church apart. In first century Palestine the wolf was the natural enemy of the sheep. The sheep were naturally entirely defenceless, and the wolf, if he got among the sheep, would absolutely ravage them. Therefore Jesus taught elsewhere that the good shepherd always is on the lookout for the sheep, and always looks out for wolves; but a hireling, in other words a man who is hired to do the job of a shepherd but isn't really a shepherd and doesn't really love or own the sheep, he would run away and abandon the sheep if a wolf came along. Like the false shepherd, the hireling has self-interest. His self-interest causes him to love his life more than he loves the flock; whereas the good shepherd, Jesus said, gives his life for the sheep.
The false prophet teaches in order not to give but to get, not to impart spiritual wisdom but to display his wisdom. One scholar said: 'No man can at one and the same time prove that he is clever and Christ is wonderful' - you can't display your own wisdom, and then try to glorify Christ. His motivation is not to feed, but it is greed - his god is his belly! He wants to satisfy his own fleshly lusts and desires - and these are men, the Lord is saying, who are ravenous wolves bent on devouring the flock of God to their own ends. We don't have time to read it, but that's why Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 - note it down - said: 'I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ' - and if anybody preaches another Jesus to you, it is not the Jesus that you have received! He goes on through the epistle and through this chapter: '[There are many] false apostles, workers of iniquity, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And you shouldn't marvel at it; because Satan himself transformed into an angel of light to beguile Eve'. Now don't you be beguiled by a false prophet who looks like a sheep, but underneath is a ravenous wolf!
These are vicious unbelievers who prey on the immature, the unstable, and the gullible in Christ. As Guy King said well: 'If you leave these wolves alone they will soon show their greed, and if you don't leave them alone they will soon show their teeth'.
Now the Lord tells us how to test for these false prophets. He changes the metaphor from sheep and wolves to trees and their fruit; from sheep's clothing which a wolf might wear, to fruit which a tree must bear. But the difference in the two illustrations is this: a wolf can disguise himself, but a tree cannot disguise its fruit - its fruit declares what it really is, what kind of tree it is. So that brings us to our second point: first of all, I told you you will be deceived by false prophets if you judge them by their projection; but secondly the Lord says you will recognise these false prophets if you judge them by their production - what they do. Simply because, as verses 16 to 19 tell us, their fruit is defining, their fruit is revealing. Verse 16 and verse 20 repeat this statement: 'By their fruits ye shall know them'. Now this isn't an encouragement to take up the sport of 'heretic-hunting' that many in Ulster do, and we have to remember the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount about judgement. But what the Lord is telling us to do is not to be censorious, but to be on your guard! There's false prophets out there, there's false doctrine out there, and the false prophet and the false doctrine can only bring forth bad fruit - it cannot restrain the flesh, it cannot bring forth holiness, all it manifests is wickedness. In 2 Peter 2 you can read down all the filthy works of the false prophets in their flesh.
We know from studying the word of God that there are many parallels between the natural world and the spiritual world. Newborn babes desire milk, so new Christians are to desire the word of God as a baby desires milk when it's born. We see this going through, the law of the harvest, and many other illustrations - and here we have another illustration from the natural world that corresponds to something in the spiritual. The Lord tells us, first of all, that the species of the tree can be known by its fruit. That's the first thing in verse 16: 'Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?'. That, if you like, is the natural produce of this tree, the natural produce, the species of the tree. In other words, from the law of Genesis, everything in this world brings forth after its own kind. It's a positive statement, it's telling us that the only thing that this tree can bring forth is what it's naturally designed to bring forth - like produces like. Thorn bushes don't produce grapes, thistles don't produce figs; and what the Lord is saying is with regard to the prophet, as Isaiah said: 'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them'. Their natural produce, their fruit declares what they naturally are, the species of the tree.
Now, do you know what we have here? It is the Gospel A-B-C, and I think over the years we've lost it somewhere. Man is naturally depraved, he is utterly ruined before God - and what the false prophet does is he takes that up and he denies it, and he makes man his own saviour, and he makes Christ's blood redundant. Yet the fact is unchanged: that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit - and He's saying this: 'If the fruit's bad it is telling and declaring and revealing that the species is depraved'. Incidentally, can we pause a moment, and can I remind you that true faith in Christ imparts a new spiritual nature to the child of God? The Bible calls it the new birth, and I'm not asking you have you made a profession, I'm not asking you were you born into Sunday School or into the Iron Hall, or are your parents Christians and have they brought you up in a Christian way, I'm asking: what is your nature?
Secondly, verse 18 tells us that 'every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit'. Now He's moved from natural produce to moral produce, He's stopped talking about the language of fruit and different types of fruit, and now He's talking about good and bad - moral definitions. So He's now talking about the grade of the fruit, the calibre and the character of the fruit. He's telling us: if the fruit in this prophet is not the fruit of the Spirit - Galatians tells us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - it will be the opposite, bad fruit: works of the flesh, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, cursing, and things like these. Those who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Morally their fruit will be bad if their nature is bad.
I think perhaps also the Lord is speaking of their teaching. As He said in Matthew 12: 'Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks'. The teaching of these apostles and false prophets will bring forth only immorality - therefore we are to test the spirits to see whether they be of God. Like the great Reformers throughout the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, who were accused by the church of Rome of being false prophets and false teachers and false evangelists. They went to the word of God, the good fruit, the true teaching of God's word and they clung to it - and indeed the clarion cry of Luther's Reformation was: 'Cling to the word of God and then you will be able to recognise the judge who is right' - cling to the word of God!
J.C. Ryle said well, and summed this whole matter up well: 'Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets' - sound doctrine and holy living. So, in examining the teacher we ought to look at both the character and the message of this man, and as you know fruit takes time to grow. It may not be immediately obvious the type of fruit that this man is bringing forth until his teaching eventually settles and grabs hold in people's lives, but eventually down the road some of these new successful systems and movements that rise up - after a while they're exposed by the moral fruit that they bring forth!
The species of the tree, its natural produce; the grade of the tree, its moral produce. In verse 18, what the nature cannot produce - if verse 16 was the positive of what it does produce, verse 18 is the negative, what it is impossible to produce. A tree can't bring forth anything other than its kind: 'Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?', verse 18, 'A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit' - but it brings forth wild grapes. As John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:10, it brings forth bad fruit and it's not good for anything but to be hewn down and cast into the furnace of the fire - in other words this fruit is useless to God! It cannot produce forth, it's impossible - and God says it's cast into hell. Peter says it goes to swift destruction, Paul says in Romans 9 it's fitted for destruction.
I want to pause again before we finish this message and say to you poignantly and with a heart full of love for Christ and for you: I can't say whether you'll be in hell or whether you'll be in heaven, but upon the authority of the word of God I'm asking you this question, what fruit are you producing? Old Spurgeon used to say: 'Never give a man the assurance of his salvation if he is living in habitual sin'. The proof of your salvation is not a profession 20 years ago, the proof of your salvation is the heart-life that you have at this moment - it doesn't say whether you're saved or lost, but it shows your condition at this present moment before God. Does your life testify and yield the fruit of God, or yield the spawn of the devil that one day will fuel hell?
So, as we close, in the last two or three minutes, we ask the question: who are these false prophets in our modern age, and how do you know them? Well, I hope that you can detect them from what we have learnt this morning from our Lord Jesus' teaching, and from the character that they're meant to produce. It's not hard to locate them in our world today, is it? Is it hard to see that they are found in the ecumenical movement that dilutes the Gospel and makes it a gospel of works? It says there's no difference between Rome and Protestantism, and even between Buddhism and the Muslim religion, Islam, and everything under the sun - that it's all together, and there's no narrow gate and wide gate, but there's just one particular way. It fuses all the religions of gods together. The health and wealth gospel that says you should be rich, you should be prosperous, you should be successful in your business - a broad gate, a broad way where you can bring all the baggage that you like with you. Profiteering evangelists and prophets, those on the television, some charismatic healers - modern day Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Pardoner', who do their work for money, who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. The cults who add to the word of God, the truth of God, their perverted prophets and satanic salvations. These false prophets can be found in the liberal theologians in the pulpits of the churches of our lands, in the university halls - who say that heaven and hell are a myth, and that a God of love could never punish anyone forever, Satan is a lie and a fairy-tale, all religions lead to God. They can be found in the higher critics who take the original scriptures, Greek and Hebrew, and pull them apart - they demote the word of God to a mere historical novel full of holes and fantastical contradictions. The unregenerate churchmen who are preaching in our land today, they are false prophets, ministers who populate hell with their salvation of good works in the sacraments and the church. It can be found in the philosophies of the age, relativism - that there's no more absolutes, everything's just as you like it and just as society dictates it. A modern psychology that makes sin a sickness rather than an immoral responsibility of every child under heaven - blame it on your parents, blame it on the establishment, blame it on society, and if it doesn't wash blame it on your genes!
Brethren, we must take our stand with historical, biblical Christianity! We must take our stand with the prophets and the apostles and the evangelists, with the reformers and with the great cloud of witnesses, and most of all with our Lord Jesus Christ, and cry like Luther: 'Cling to the word of God! Cling to holy life!'. Then you will be able to recognise the judge, the prophet, and the preacher who is right.
Our Father, in the age in which we live where many are known about with every wind of doctrine, double minded and confused - we pray, as the hymn writer has inspired us, to look only unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who was the only Shepherd of the sheep, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the Father on high interceding for us. Lord, may we say at the end of the road, at the ribbon at the end of the race, that we have finished the race, finished the course, fought a good fight - but most of all that we have kept the faith, and that we will go to our reward having stood firmly upon the apostle's doctrine and the teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty fifth tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "False Prophets: Their Projection and Their Production" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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