Many people regard the Sermon on the Mount as the greatest moral teaching in human history. We have scarcely skimmed the surface of what Jesus teaches us here about living as his disciples. We have heard the challenge that righteous living in the light of the Kingly Rule of God is a whole new ball-park compared to the old rule-keeping of the Pharisees. The standard we must aim at is God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. We have seen how right living must begin with our thoughts and our attitudes. Hatred is as sinful as murder and lust is as bad as adultery and we must get rid of any greed. Then we have seen that when it comes to our spiritual practices like giving to the needy, or prayer, or fasting, how we do these things is as important as doing them. Last week we heard the challenge to seek treasures in heaven and not treasures on earth. To trust in God for all our needs and to seek first his Kingdom and the right living it demands. And that will include caring for people in need, especially in these days of Coronavirus.
The Sermon on the Mount ends with four warnings about the importance of obeying Jesus’s teaching. I will focus on one of them but first let me remind you of the other sayings which I am sure are all very familiar. The first is this.
Matthew 7 13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Choosing the right path through life really is a matter of life and death. It is the choice between destruction and eternal life – the wide road which most people are following and the narrow path which Jesus warns us only a few people ever find. So we need to make sure we are on the right path. That means choosing the right gate to start the journey and then keeping on making sure we are sticking to the right road.
I will come back to the warning about false prophets in a few minutes, after reminding you about the sayings which follow.
Matthew 7 21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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 in your name perform many miracles?” 23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Here is a very solemn reminder about what really matters in our Christian lives. People may think they are doing fine. They may put their trust in even seemingly impressive things they say they are doing for God. But that is not what God is looking for.
23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
I never knew you. On the day of judgment, the person’s relationship with God is the only thing which will matter. It is not how much we know about Jesus, but whether we have a personal relationship with him. Does Jesus know us? And do we know Jesus?
In Matthew 12:50 Jesus will say that his true family are “those who do the will of my Father in heaven” Do we know Jesus – are we truly members of his family? We find the idea of knowing God as having a relationship with God most clearly in John’s Gospel, but it is also in Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:27 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Knowing Jesus, having a personal relationship with Jesus, that is what is truly important, both in life now, and on the Day of Judgment.
The fourth warning in Matthew 7 is probably the most familiar.
Matthew 7 24 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
The wise man is the one who builds his house on the rock. But the important bit of building our life wisely is not just hearing the words of Jesus, or knowing those words or studying those words or even learning those words by heart. What matters is putting the words of Jesus into practice. Don’t just hear what God says – do it! Just do it! Because if we don’t live out Jesus’s teaching in our daily lives, then when the storm of Judgment Day comes, everything we have worked all our lives to build will be washed away.
But how can we be sure that we are on the right road in life? How can we be certain we have a personal relationship with Jesus? How can we build our lives wisely on the rock? This is where Jesus’s second warning of the four comes in. We have to be very careful of who we allow to guide us on the path. We need to be on our guard against people who would mislead us and deceive us.
Matthew 7 15 ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognise them.
Watch out for false prophets. Those who claim to bring messages from God but are lying. Actually, the risk is broader than people who claim to be prophesying. In Acts 20 Paul uses the phrase “savage wolves” who “distort the truth” to describe people who would bring false teaching into the church. Many of the letters in the New Testament warn about false teaching. In the third warning we just looked at in verse 21, using Jesus’s name, and even prophesying and casting out demons and working miracles, are not proof that people are Christians or that they are actually doing the will of God.
The history of the church has been plagued by false teachers, and sadly there are still very many around in the world today. We need to be on our guard against people who would lead us away from God.
16 By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
Ultimately a person’s character will be expressed in their actions. Ungodly actions come from an ungodly character. By their fruit you will recognize them. In Matthew 3:8 in the preaching of John the Baptist “fruit” represents behaviour which demonstrates true repentance. In the parable of the Sower and the different kinds of soil, fruit is the result of living according to the word of God which has been sown. In the parable of the vineyard fruit is the life and loyalty which God expects from his chosen people. Bad teaching will result in bad living. Good teaching will lead to the kind of righteous living which Jesus is talking about all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. By their fruits will you know them. But fruit takes time to develop. There are so many warnings against false teachers through the New Testament because it can sometimes take a long time before you find out what quality of fruit a tree will produce. So we should always be on our guard.
Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
There are many false gospels being peddled in the world today. Perhaps the most common is the idea that as long “as you are nice to everybody” you will be saved. It’s an appealing idea. Jesus preached love, people say, so all God asks any of us to do is love people. Love is all you need. (Actually, that wasn’t Jesus – that was the Beatles.) Love IS very important. But Jesus also made clear in the third warning we just read that what really matters in our relationship with him. God gave his son so that our sins could be forgiven and so that we could receive the free gift of eternal life. And people receive eternal life by putting our trust in Jesus and becoming his disciples – not just by doing our best to love everybody. Because our love by itself will never be enough. Being saved is all about entering into a personal relationship with Jesus and having faith in him. So beware of false gospels. Beware of wrong ideas about Jesus, which make him out to be less than he truly was, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. By their fruit you will recognise them.
2 Peter 2:1 there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.
Watch out for preachers and teachers who refuse to recognize the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Beware of those who seek to drag the church down to the ethical level of the world around. By their fruit you will recognise them.
2 Timothy 3:4 lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
So watch out for false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, Jesus says. This matters more than ever in our post-modern world which is obsessed with personal choice. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, people say, and everybody’s opinion is as valid and important as anybody else’s. The only thing we are allowed to be certain about is that we aren’t allowed to be certain about anything any more. We live in a world of spin and an age of image manipulators. For very many people, facts don’t matter. Some people live as if facts don’t even exist. It doesn’t seem to matter what is actually true any more – all that matters is what seems like it is true.
The world is suffering from “truth decay.” In our series on the Armour of God we talked about “the belt of truth” and we said that we are now living in a dangerous world of “post-truth”. Objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. We saw that happening over Brexit and in the American elections. We are seeing that now in the fake news and false information being spread about coronavirus and vaccinations especially over social media. In this post-modern world reasoning is irrelevant. Image is everything. People are make life and death decisions not based on facts or logic but based on their feelings which depend on outward appearances.
In these days, false teachers of post-truth are leading Christians astray over all kinds of issues, from the inevitability of judgment to the existence of hell to sexual ethics. False teachers tell us that whether something is actually true or false or right or wrong doesn’t matter. What the Bible says on an issue doesn’t matter. What Christians have believed for 2000 years doesn’t matter. All that matters in post-truth is how something makes people feel. It this plausible? Is this convincing? What is my gut feeling about this? We must not be deceived. Christians need to stand up for the truth and be on our guard against false prophets and false teachers. By their fruit will you recognise them. Go through the narrow gate and stick to the narrow path. Your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing. So build your house on the rock!