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Newtown Bible Church

Seductive Guides Down the Broad Path (Matthew 7:15-20, Pt. 1)

 God’s people are engaged in a war. The Reformers used to refer to this present state of the Church as the Church Militant, which simply meant she was engaged in spiritual battle, she abides in enemy territory, the world is not friendly toward but seeks her destruction.

 

“It is the will of the Lord … that His church shall be engaged in uninterrupted war in this world. That we may continue to be his disciples to the end, it is not enough that we are merely submissive, and allow ourselves to be governed by his word. Our faith, which is constantly attacked by Satan, must be prepared to resist.” (Calvin).

 

One day we will be the Church Triumphant in glory in the presence of Christ our Lord, but for now the church is called to fight, however, not with missals, guns, fist, or sword “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, but the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses, destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The weapon of our warfare is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of the living God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, there is a battle for the souls of men, it is a battle fought in the realm of truth and error, and it is this battle to which the Lord directs our attention this morning by warning us of the leaders of the enemy: False teachers.

Here our Lord gives us: Two exhortations regarding false teachers, so that you may be kept in truth and not lost to spiritual deception: (1) Be on Guard against False Prophets (2) Be Discerning in all Spiritual Matters

 Our Lord has just told us that there are two paths of life; all people are either on the broad and comfortable path that leads to destruction, or the narrow and difficult path that leads to life. As there are only 2 paths, so there are 2 types of guides; here Jesus exposes the guides who lead through the wide gate and down the comfortable path to destruction.

Be on Guard against False Prophets

“Beware of the false prophets” - A stern warning of the danger of deception. Jesus’ hearers were primarily Jews and therefore these words would have had a particular and hauntingly familiar sound, for the history of the Jews is fraught with the destruction brought on by “false prophets.”

“Beware” - used approximately 24x in the NT. ‘to pay attention to, to keep on the lookout for, to be alert for, to be on one’s guard against.’ It is critical to sound the alarm, to alert others of the danger. We don’t say, “Beware,” there is a joyful and trustworthy guide ahead, but “Beware” there is danger & destruction up ahead.

ILLUST: If you have ever been to the beach you have probably heard of rip currents: these are strong surface level currents that lead away from the shore out to the sea. They are hard to detect and can be very dangerous. On the Hawaiian Island of Kauai there is a beach with a sign that reads: “Hanakapiai Beach Warning: Do not go near the water - unseen currents have killed …. Visitors.”

It is reported that 100 deaths a year in the US due to rip currents and they are the cause of 80% of beach rescues. How many more have failed to heed the Lord’s warning here and been carried away by the rip current of false doctrine out into the sea of deception.

Acts 20:28 “be on guard” - in the context of false teachers rising among the elders of the church of Ephesus. Jesus repeatedly used it to warn His disciples of the hypocrisy of the “scribes and Pharisees” (6:1; 16:6, 11-12)

 

False prophets are dangerous liars

“the false prophets” (yeudoprofhtw◊n) - Now, a prophet is God’s spokesman one who speaks for God - and there were good ones like Moses (Ex. 4:10-12; Jer. 1:5, 9). God has ordained for men, His chosen prophets, to be His heralds and messengers, to communicate His will and His truth to His people.

Prophets were trusted, looked to for guidance, respected, honored, and given authority. The welfare of God’s people was dependent upon the watch care and faithfulness of His prophets, particularly as His people look to them to teach them the truth about God.

Because there are true prophets, Satan seeks to pervert such a sacred calling introducing counterfeits, those who claim to be spokesmen for God, but are in reality his emissaries; messengers of darkness, deceitful workers: “false prophets”

The term yeudo- has the basic meaning of false, a lie, or deception; it encompasses the idea of hypocrisy and misrepresenting truth.

We see this kind of deception throughout Scripture: “false witnesses” were put forth to bring testimony against Christ (Matt. 26:60); “false apostles” in the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:2f); “false Christ” (Matt. 24:24); “false speakers” (1 Tim. 4:2 [yeudologwn] - connected to the “doctrine of demons”); “false brethren” (2 Cor. 11:26; Gal. 2:4).

A common refrain of the OT prophets was, “Thus saith the LORD” used in some form over 2k x in OT. A common refrain of the false prophet is, “The Lord said to me …” (*Jer. 23:25, 31, 34, 38 [23:16 “your own imagination]).

But, False prophets do have a measure of power that would seem to lend credibility to their claims:

Egyptian magicians Ex. 7:11-12, 22 (Identified as “Jannes [JAN eez] and Jambres [JAM breez] 2 Tim. 3:8); Simon the magician: “Called the ‘great power of god.” (Acts 8:9-11)

The apex of false prophets will be manifest during the Tribulation period in which the antichrist will receive religious devotion from the ministry of the “false prophet” (Rev. 13:11-17).

First, false prophets are dangerous liars, deceivers, malicious and evil messengers of Satan, agents of darkness; they are poison to the body of Christ, snakes in the Garden, and adulterous tempters of the pure and holy “Bride of Christ”; they are ministers of Satan and stand in spiritual union with the anti-christ.

Like the rip tide through their lies they carry people away from God’s word, away from the shore of righteousness, humble brokenness, self-denial, and carry them out to the sea of self-centered deception.

 

(b) False prophets are among us

“who come to you” - Notice what He says: they are coming “to you.” This is so obvious as to not seem worth mentioning, and yet is so commonly neglected. They come “to you” (proß uJma◊ß) - that is the church. There are plenty of deceptions in the world for the same adversary of the church is also called the ‘god of this world,’ who also “blinds the unbelieving that they may not see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” - there are endless ways he seeks to do this.

But here the Lord is specifically addressing those who come to work lies in the church, “while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away … and the tares are the sons of the evil one and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matt. 13:25, 38-39).

It is an intentional, targeted, purposeful coming; they have been sent by their master the devil. It is not simply that they happened upon uJma◊ß, but that they plan, scheme, manipulate, and wickedly set their designs on God’s people for the purpose of deception.

Paul warned that false teachers would even arise among the church (Acts 20:29 [cf. Deut. 31:16]).

Not everyone who claims to speak for God is from God; some who are in the church and in positions of prominence and leadership, are extremely popular, have engaging smiles and are Satan’s workers.

As there was a Judas Iscariot among the disciples, so they are among the church, Full of greed and stealing from God’s people, while know one even suspects them.

Let me make and observation here: False prophets are honored in a corrupt, compromised church culture where truth is minimized (**Jer. 5:31; cf. 2 Tim. 4:1 “gather for themselves teachers”).

Far from being singled out, identified, and rejected in a false religious system they are embraced with open arms and honored: “blind leading the blind.”(Jer. 14:14; Ezek. 13:2-3).

Note that they saw false visions; and they falsely claimed peace. Now, the people were living in unrighteousness, yet rather than call them to repentance and obedience, they sought to gain popularity by proclaiming false messages of peace: that you can have Your Best Life Now.

Since the people were living in unrighteousness and did not want repentance they gladly accepted the message. Because it was easy, comfortable, did not challenge them but condoned their sinfulness. These are broad path prophets.

(*note: we are rightfully hard on false teaching, but for those caught up in it, we are to deal patiently and gently, asking God to grant repentance).

These false prophets come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, just as they did for Israel, so they do for the church, even as it is today. Let me give you three categories, or types of false teachers that confuse the church today.

(1) Foolish & Crass: Brazenly foolish, ridiculously outlandish in their behavior and teaching.

These would be the obvious much of the TBN big name charismatic *WOF leaders. Benny Hinn an obvious one who, with the full agreement of everyone on the stage, gives a detailed account of his conversation with Jesus that eventually lead him to buy a treadmill to stay in better shape, or says he wished he had Holy Ghost machine gun to blow away those who speak against his ministry, or whips people on stage with his jacket while either screaming or muttering the world “fire” as they fall down supposedly slain in the Spirit. Or, Dwight Thompson that tells stories of pianos that keep playing when no one is there. Or, others who have said that ridiculous, uncontrollable laughter is a sign of the movement of the Spirit. And the list could go on and get worse.

(2) Intellectual & sophisticated: Those who are cloaked under impressive academic degrees, prestigious positions in universities and liberal seminaries, and may have fancy British accents.

Those like educated theological liberals, who deny the Deity of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, the depravity of man, atonement, justification by faith.

(3) Hip & Cool: Those who are extremely ‘authentic’ and have broken from the confines of traditionalism and organized religion into the freedom of self-discovery and expression, where truth is wider, more mysterious than can nicely worded in doctrinal statements, or systematic theologies. They have a love for the vague and novel. They absolutely deny absolute truth, and beckon to the journey rather than the destination, rejecting the historic faith fought and paid for through the blood of martyrs throughout the ages.

Jesus calls for discernment - all paths do not lead to heaven; all religions do not contribute to our knowledge of God. There is true and false; right and wrong; heaven and hell; true prophets and false prophets. We as a church need to recognize this.

 

(c) False prophets are subtle deceivers (are malicious hypocrites).

“in sheep’s clothing” - Every affective deception and lie has a certain amount of truth, otherwise nobody would believe it.

Here it is not ‘as a sheep’ but in the clothing of a sheep. The idea of “clothing” is that of concealing, or covering such as one would wear a mask. The clothing is designed to hide what they are on the inside.

It would include their outward appearance, but more directly refers to the way they present themselves and who they pretend to be (Like Spies, or undercover agents who infiltrate groups by taking on their characteristics, manner, language, in order to gain access, so with false prophets).

This is nothing new, in the OT false prophets would put on the garb of a true prophet in order to gain the trust of those they intended to deceive (Zech. 13:4; NT Matt. 23:5 “broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments”). So it is and has always been that Satan’s emissaries wear the garments of sincerity and truth but are hypocrites and liars.

They appear as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They profess to have the best interest of God’s people at heart; They may have a demeanor of gentleness and sincerity.

Very often it is hard to detect this kind of false prophet at first glance (of course this is why they are so often so effective). They come with the right language and credentials. We could wish that each elect person would have a large “E” printed on their forehead, and that each false prophet had a very large “L” for liar.

But they don’t and sometimes it is hard to to tell and simply takes time in some cases for their true colors to show, but show they will eventually.

 

(d) False prophets are malicious destroyers

“but inwardly are ravenous wolves” - Wolves were common in the land of Palestine and an unprotected sheep was defenseless against them. Now, a wolf eats sheep, they are his food and his sustenance. A wolf hunts sheep and when a wolf sees a sheep he only has one goal in mind - it isn’t how to care for and protect the sheep from other wolves - but how to satisfy his appetite (Little Red Riding Hood).

Not only are they wolves, but inwardly “ravenous wolves” - speaks of the violent destroying nature of the these false teachers (Ezek. 22:24-31). They seek to devour through deception, using others only for their personal gain regardless of what pain and hardship it brings on those whom they exploit, as long as it feeds their lust.

So these wolves attack God’s people for the purpose of scattering them - that is causing confusion and a break in unity (John 10:12); they only seek to fulfill their own lusts.

It is most graphically shown in that they are willing to kill their followers, ruin them, lead them to hell for their own gain.

ILLUST (1) Story of false prophet who was regularly heard on a syndicated radio show who had calculated the income of false prophecy when he would say that somebody has $10 in a cookie jar stashed away, but that they need to act out in faith and send that into his ministry and God will richly bless them a hundred fold. He figured that of the thousands listening to the program, if only 200 grandmothers and little old ladies sent in that money he made $2000 just like that.

ILLUST (2) Others claim to heal people and receive incredible amounts of money by those longing for some miracle and relief from their pain and ailments. When the false prophet fails to produce any real healing, when the pain or disease does not go away, then they blame on the person’s lack of faith and so causing untold misery upon misery for their own selfish gain.

False prophets are motivated by hate toward those they crush (Prov. 26:28)

However, no example of their depraved nature is more evident than their lying hypocrisy and hatred that lead them to cry out for the Son of God’s blood: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” - carrying out their lies and murderous hatred in a way that would not cause them to break the Sabbath, a day set aside for the glory and contemplation of God - and for no other reason than that He threatened their false religious system. And so it is and so it will be in the final days of the antichrist.

Do they know they are liars and hypocrites?

The answer would seem to be an emphatic yes. They know they do not believe what they are saying. They are masters of manipulation, “having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children” (2 Pet. 2:14). They are the epitome of wickedness and deception, true children and brothers of Satan himself.

3 reasons for the existence of false prophets: 1 Moral and 2 Theological.

(1) Moral: the greed, pride, selfishness of men; or better, *covetousness.

False prophets are motivated by the financial gain (Jer. 6:13; Jude; 2 Peter)

False prophets are motivated by illicit sexual desires (Jer. 29:23; Matt. 5:27-28; 19:3; *2 Pet. 2:2, 7 [“sensual”])

False prophets are motivated by power & authority

False prophets are motivated by love of human praise (2 John “loves to be first”; John “seek glory from men”; Gal 6:13 “they may boast in your flesh”)

False prophets are self indulgent (Ezek. 34)

(2)Theological: A) they are the most useful instruments in Satan’s hands

Satan is most interested in the area of religion, specifically the truth about Jesus Christ.

Satan’s goal is deception (not destruction)

He distorts the truth (1 & 2 Tim; 2 Pet. 3:17); misinterprets (Matt. 4:1f); misapplies (Matt. 4:1f).

Satan hates holiness (not happiness)

Satan can cause the most damage through the leaders

Leaders are the most influential (influence)

Leaders are the most trusted (trust)

Leaders are the most gifted (ability)

(3) Theological: B) God test His people by allowing false prophets

God uses false prophets for the testing of His people

God tests the obedience of His people (Deut. 13:1f)

*When experience because the authority rather than clear, simple, wholehearted trust in God’s Word, then the seed of deception has landed in fertile ground.

God has protected and clarified His Word through error’

The occasions of the NT letters were God’s true spokesmen confronting various errors in the church.

The doctrine on which we stand was clarified and solidified through controversy and defense against error.

God uses false prophets for the judgment of false professors

1 Kings 22:22f (cf. 2 Chr. 18:21-22; 2 Thess. 2:10-12)

God will judge all false prophets for their lies & blasphemy

We will discuss this more in the next section, but let me leave you with this: we can only detect error when we know the truth. Doctrine matters, right theology is essential, and it only comes from knowing His Word.

Isaiah 8:20; Jude 3 “Contend for the faith”; 1 John 4:1f “Test the spirits”.

**2 Cor. 11:3 - God has given us all we need in His Word.

 

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