Matthew 7:15-23: False Prophets

“Beware of false prophets,” our Lord cautions.  The danger is real; otherwise, why did Jesus warn us with such words?  Now, if a false prophet can exist, so also can false teaching and worship.  From their mouths flow words of death, not life.

“Enter through the narrow gate,” the warning continues.  Why?  The boulevard of destruction is broad, which is why so many are on this roadway.  Though following the majority may make sense in what works and what doesn’t, the group is not a reliable source in matters of faith.  The sinful nature skews each of us in a downward and incorrect direction.  The road we like leads toward damnation, not salvation.

Well, if we are aware this, why should we worry?  All things are not as they appear.  The deceit-bringers come, not looking like the devils they are, but like innocent sheep.  Behind their facade, they are ravenous wolves.

Evil comes camouflaged, masked in the cloak of morality and integrity.  The Bible reveals Satan comes, not as the wicked destroyer, but masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  So, don’t be surprised if these phony prophets shine like the saints.  In for the kill, falsehood can now strike, packaged in the trappings of truth.

So, how can you spot them?  By their fruits.  Does this describe the despicable life they may be leading?  No!  Remember, they come disguised in sheep’s clothing.  In other words, others perceive them as the real deal, which is why they are so dangerous.

Part of their duplicity is the impression of holiness.  So, works by themselves can mislead us.  Again, from Scripture, “False prophets will arise and perform spectacular signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

The task of a prophet is to teach and preach.  So, this means his doctrines and teachings are the fruits he produces.  Whoever speaks something different from Christ’s Word is a wolf, and their words will reveal them as such.

Sometimes, a misleading prophet may not be aware he is one.  Instructed and taught in untruth, he may think He expounds what God says.  Not so, for his deception is also deceiving him.  Reflect on these sobering words of Jesus.

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On Judgment Day, many people will cry, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy, drive out demons, and produce many miracles in your name?”  Nevertheless, I will declare to them, ‘I do not know you.  Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ [Matthew 7:21-23]

These deceived-and-deceiving teachers are without the law.  In this case, the instruction of the incarnate Son, in whom alone is life everlasting.

“Hey, pastor, I’m no theologian or expert.  How can I distinguish a fake teacher from a real one?”  Both appeal to the written Word of God.

Long ago, the early Church compiled and pronounced two different creeds, long before bothering to list the books of Scripture.  Almost 75 years earlier!  Here’s why.  Above all else, we must believe in the real Jesus, for a counterfeit Savior saves no one.  For this reason, those ancient statements of belief, called “creeds,” came out first.

The same Church, which gave us the creeds recognized the scriptural texts, as well.  So, if someone won’t give any credence to the creeds, how can he trust or rely on the Bible?  To believe something is Scripture, someone must first trust in the authority that affirms something as Scripture.  So, when one rejects the creeds, he also undercuts how God chose to work through His Church to provide us His Scripture.

A person may say he only believes what the Bible says.  Does he not trust the Creeds as also true?  For, if not, he can assert something contrary to the Scriptures because he understands them through his interpretive lenses, not with Jesus-colored glasses.

Let’s use Baptism to explore how this works, only because God’s Word says in so many places how Baptism forgives and saves us.  Let’s say this person, who says he believes the Bible, tells you Baptism can’t save.  Tell me, how can you be sure if “baptism saves you,” as the Bible attests, or if those words mean “baptism doesn’t save you, something else does” (1 Peter 3:21)?  Both of you point to the Bible.

Now, you mention other verses.  Through Baptism, a washing of regeneration and renewal, God gives someone spiritual birth, giving him the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Acts 2:38).  Of course, this man brings all his workarounds.  One verse after another, he rationalizes why those passages, which “appear” to show Baptism accomplishes something, mean the opposite, instead.  All the while, he can quote no passage to prove Baptism does nothing, which he asserts is the biblical teaching.

Each of you claims to be true to the Scriptures.  So, nothing is solved, not if you are to break the stalemate.  So, you both must refer to some other authority.  Now, he refers to an inner conviction, alleging God told him he’s right.  Well, if he’s correct, why didn’t God tell us Baptism won’t save, instead of saying it does?

Here’s the problem—if you’re correct, he’s the deceived one.  Now, if he is right, you’re the one deluded.  Such a dilemma, but this is how Christ speaks.  Now what?

Return to the Church’s confession of the faith, which took place before she listed the books belonging in the Bible.  The Spirit, working through a young and growing Church, produced two creeds, years before she pronounced what books are part of the Bible.  After someone realizes this historical reality, he cannot deny the creeds while also claiming to believe the Bible.  To do so undermines the validity of Scripture.  Now you understand why the Lutheran Church refuses to give up either one.

Does one of the creeds say baptism saves?  Yes!  The Nicene Creed confesses “one baptism for the remission of sins.”  Now, if God remits your sins, He forgives you, which means Baptism can rescue you from sin and free you for eternal life.

The most faithful Prophet of all is Christ Jesus, who speaks the words of God without fail or flaw.  The Father’s incarnate Word, Jesus, fulfills all prophecy and brings with Him words filled with never-ending life.  The Lord’s words are the solid Rock, on which He builds His Church—anything else is sinking sand.

The Person doing the saving, Jesus, should always be front and center.  Is this not true for the creeds?  Yes!  Not only is Christ the central focus of both creeds, but also the One who saves us by what He does.  The Creeds are Christ-centered.

Listen to the Apostle Paul on this, “I resolved to think about nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  So, Jesus’ saving work should be central to what a pastor preaches.  The blood of our Lord is, indeed, the thread running through all faithful preaching and prophecy.

Let’s go back to the baptism debate.  Is Baptism something God does for you or something you do for Him?  Both the Creeds and Scripture affirm and confess Baptism as God’s saving activity for us.  The untruthful teacher claims Baptism will not, and does not, do anything, for if Baptism did, your works are what saves you.

No, Baptism isn’t my work or yours, but God’s.  So, when he says Baptism is what a Christian does for God, he pulls Christ from His throne and makes the person the doer.  In his theological gymnastics, he changes the birth Jesus instituted to bring us into His kingdom into a mere symbol of something we do.  The forgiving waters vaporize into a required work of the Law, and the Pharisee within us is born instead.  The Lord doesn’t authorize him to make these changes!  So, anyone who does is misleading others.

Always question, “Is a congregation or pastor teaching the one, true Faith, the same which Jesus gave to His Apostles and which the creeds confess”?  Be wary if they are not.  “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way leading to life” (Matthew 7:14).

Recognize how narrow this gate is, leaving no room for the opinions or qualifications of people.  Only the merits of Jesus and His righteousness will squeeze through.  Didn’t Jesus teach, “I am the gate of the sheep” (John 10:9)?  Yes.  The One through whom we gain entrance into heaven is Jesus, for He is the doorway to everlasting life.

Attend to His words some more, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  The way is difficult because of the cross, demanding death to your sinfulness and self.  On a wooden cross, Jesus accomplished this death for you so, baptized into His death, you can share in His life.

Through His cross, God absolves you of your every failing.  The life-giving Spirit raised Jesus from death so, in Him, you too will rise to new life.  “In his body on the tree, [Christ] carried our sins so we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).  Whose righteousness?  Only Christ’s because only His wounds will heal you.

The best, fruit-bearing tree is our Savior’s cross.  Still, Jesus did more than die for your salvation, for He also needed to deliver this to you.  How does the Christ-bearing tree produce its fruit?  Picture how Jesus died, with blood and water gushing from His side.  These direct us to the waters of baptism and the blood of His Supper.

Today, God invites you to feast on those fruits in the Supper of His Son’s body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Only by His fruits, not your own, will you know Him.  Amen.