3rd Sunday after Pentecost Proper A4
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 7:21-29 Sermon
June 1, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
556 "Rise Ye Children Of Salvation"
385 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
516 "Faith Of Our Fathers"
560 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE THAT COUNTS
TEXT (vs. 15; 21-23): "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves....Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
Have you ever had anybody give you bad information? Maybe you need advice about how to fix something or how to install something, so you contact a person who should be able to give you the proper information. But after you do, you later discover that this person didn't know what they were talking about. Or maybe you get ahold of the wrong set of instructions. Whatever the case, I know this has happened to me, and I'm almost sure it has happened to you. I can think of a couple of instances in my life where this has caused some definite problems.
One time that really sticks in my mind is when I was working as an electrician. Some friends of mine contacted me, because they were putting central air conditioning in their home. And since I have wired many such units in my time, this particular situation presented no major problem for me. So I proceeded to do all of the wiring in preparation for the installation of the system by the heating and air conditioning contractor.
Before I began however, I decided to double-check with the contractor to determine the size of the unit they were installing, and what the wiring requirements were. I wanted to make sure I put in exactly what was needed.
Virtually every residential air conditioning system is 240 volts, and needs to be fused at 30 amps. The heating and air conditioning contractor confirmed this fact. So I installed a 30 amp fuse box in the garage, and then I ran ten gauge wire up from the garage, through the attic, down to the basement, and finally outside to where the unit would be sitting.
But the heating and air conditioning contractor gave me bad information. When it came time to install the unit, it required not a 30 amp, but a 40 amp 240 volt circuit, which needed to be wired with 8 gauge wire instead of the 10 gauge that I had installed. So everything I had previously installed had to be replaced. Nothing I had done was of any value, because it was wrong. And as a result of this one little bit of mis-information, there was a lot more expense, time, and frustration.
Our Gospel reading for today are the concluding statements of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in chapters five through seven in Matthew's gospel. In that famous sermon, we have such things as the words of the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, the injunction to turn the other cheek, the references to Christians being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and "judge not lest ye be judged."
Jesus concludes then with a warning to watch out for false prophets and false teachers. What kind of people would he be warning us about? How would we define such a person? How can we recognize a false teacher?
Blatant false teachers can frequently be easy to recognize from a Christian perspective. The Muslims are guilty of false teaching, as well as those who establish and perpetuate the various cults. Any religion that has tenets that disagree with the Christian faith are false, pure and simple. These are the more obvious examples, and their false teaching is easily discernable, at least as far as the Christian is concerned. Naturally these are the people Christians are to avoid.
But the real problem comes with those whose false teaching is more covert, where snippets of Christian truth are interwoven with falsehood and anti-Christian theology. These people are much harder to detect; therefore the Christian has to be vigilant, and proceed a bit more cautiously. False teaching is much harder to ferret out when it is coated with the paintbrush of Christian words and terms.
The Apostle Paul, when writing his second letter to young Timothy, gives him this famous warning in Chapter 4 verses 3-4: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
This passage gives us a good clue as to why the Christian needs to be vigilant when it comes to false teachers. False teachers are popular. They are successful. People like them. False teachers can draw large crowds and obtain many followers.
Today like never before, people can seek out a minister somewhere who will tell them what they want to hear, and not what they need to hear. False teachers can take to the airwaves on radio and television, preach their message, and rake in the money by the millions. False teachers can be leaders, and have a great deal of motivational and inspirational charisma.
However in our Gospel lesson for today, in verse 15 Jesus says, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." In other words, Jesus is telling us to ignore the flash and glamour on the outside, and have a look at what is contained on the inside. The outside may look great, but it's the foundation and the structure on the inside that's important.
The Apostle John in his first epistle, chapter 4 has some very pointed words to share with us. In verse 1 he writes: "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." And then he continues in verse 5, "They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them."
Popularity can never be a good indicator as to whether or not someone is speaking the truth of God. In fact, according to the way John states it, worldly popularity is probably a good sign that something might be wrong, and that we should dig a bit deeper into what lies underneath.
Now I wouldn't go so far as to say that all pastors and teachers and evangelists who are popular, or who have huge congregations, or who make nice salaries are false teachers. In fact, I've known many very faithful pastors who have large congregations and a very successful ministry. The faithful pastor however will credit the Holy Spirit for the success, and not his own charisma or popularity.
In verse 24 of our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus says: "...everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." In a nutshell, that describes the acid test as to whether or not a person is a true disciple of Christ, or a false teacher; or as Jesus describes, a wolf in sheep's clothing.
What this does, is place the onus directly upon us. God has given us his true Word in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. We know that God's Word can be trusted, and that he would never lead us astray. Therefore, everybody who opens their mouth in a theological sense is subject to the litmus test of Scripture-and I am not exempt from this test either.
Each and every Sunday, you sit here in front of this pulpit; and for about twenty minutes or so, you hear me expound upon a text from the Bible. I use the text along with other supporting Biblical references to edify you in a spiritual sense, and to help you apply God's Word to your lives.
Outside of the walls of this building, we have a much larger group of people who read my sermons on our website. And it also affords you the opportunity to go back and read again and study what I've said in the church service.
Whatever the occasion someone might have to come in contact with one of my sermons, whether it is a church member, visitor, or internet reader; whatever I say or write is subject to the scrutiny of the Bible. Everybody has the privilege, and ultimately the duty to "test the spirits," as John so aptly puts it.
II Timothy chapter 3 verse 16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." This applies to both the pastor and the laity. Everybody needs to be assured that what is proclaimed in the name of God is indeed in line with what God says, and to question or challenge the pastor if there is any doubt.
I need to address one particular issue, and that is the difference between an erring brother and a false teacher. We are human, and mistakes can be made. Going back to my opening illustration about wiring the air conditioner, I am relatively certain that the heating and air conditioning contractor didn't intentionally give me the wrong information. I don't believe there was any malicious intent. He simply made a mistake. That's what happens with an erring brother.
Even though an erring brother and a false teacher can make doctrinal mistakes, and the result can often be the same, the difference lies in the intent. An erring brother will gladly accept correction from God's Word. A false teacher however doesn't care what God says, and persistently sticks to the false doctrine. Erring brothers we try to correct; false teachers are those whom we are to avoid.
"Search the Scriptures," Jesus says, "They testify about me." And that's the heart of the whole situation. The Bible presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ to us, the Gospel which saves us from our sin and guarantees our reward in heaven. We need to clearly see Jesus, our Saviour, whom we accept through faith, who gladly took our sin upon himself and suffered death on the cross on our behalf; we need to know that our view of him is clear and unobstructed by any false teaching or bad theology.
As we think of our own lives, we know that we have been lured by the temptations of this world. In our minds, we have often tried to create our own theological systems which serve to glorify ourselves and excuse our own sinful thoughts, words, and actions. False teachers have attracted us many times, even if we ourselves are that false teacher.
But Jesus invites us to come to him, and to look to the truth of his Word. It is there where we find him. The Holy Spirit, working through that Word brings us to faith in our Saviour. In Jesus' high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, he says in verse 17: "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." In one short sentence, Jesus is saying that God's Word in the Bible is true, and that we will be made holy by God working through it.
Jesus concludes our Gospel lesson for this morning by the illustration of the wise man building his house upon rock, and the foolish man building his house upon sand.
As I read this, I immediately thought about the devastating earthquake that happened in China not too long ago. I remember hearing in one of the news reports that the death toll was greatly multiplied because of buildings with substandard construction and foundations. So many structures collapsed like a house of cards when the earthquake hit, killing thousands of people, and trapping many more under piles of rubble. It's a very sad fact.
A false teacher which teaches contrary to God's Word is exactly like that. Sure the fašade may look pleasing, and it may be an otherwise glorious structure, but it's what's on the inside that counts. False teaching that is built on the shifting sands of human wisdom cannot withstand anything. It may be popular at the moment and appealing to a great many people; however the eventual conclusion will be death and destruction.
God has given us his divinely inspired and inerrant Word. He has given us the ability to read it, and the intellect, wisdom, and reasoning to understand it. A false teacher will never stand up under its scrutiny, regardless of how nicely that false teaching looks on the outside.
Through that Word, we see our Saviour; and through faith in him we have forgiveness and life. Therefore we can exclaim with the hymn writer: "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."