With so many voices claiming exclusivity to the truth, it can be a daunting task discovering what is real and what isn’t. In this weeks sermon, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship explains that competing voices are nothing new. This message is preached from Matthew 7:15-20.
New Covenant Fellowship is a Georgetown Tx church.
part 17 competing voices
My two oldest children are wrapping up their second season of t-ball. T-ball is to prepare them for baseball. Baseball is a fairly complex sport when you think about it. It’s not like soccer (don’t touch the ball with your hands, keep it in bounds, kick the ball in that goal). T-ball on the other hand…hit the ball, run to the base. Which base? There are a few bases out there. You can run past the base…no not that base…only first base. When you’re on base, run to the next base when the ball is hit. Sometimes…sometimes you don’t have to run if there is nobody on the base directly before yours. If the ball is hit and caught, you need to get back to your base, lest you get caught in a double play. At this level, they are doing well if they run to the correct base.
I was at the last regular season game and our team was in the field playing defense. There were runners on first and second and the ball was hit to the pitcher. As soon as the ball was hit, a number of voices were yelling at that pitcher. One voice was telling him to throw the ball to third base to get the lead runner. Another voice was telling him to throw the ball to second because it was a closer throw and these kids don’t exactly have rockets at this age. Another voice was telling him to throw to first because the kid that hit the ball was running extremely slow. Which is it? Throw to first, second, or third? So this poor kid was extremely confused because he had a number of voices telling him to do different things, he was trying to discern between competing voices.
END OF SOM – JESUS PREPARING HEARERS FOR COMPETING VOICES
We have been studying the SOM where Jesus is preparing his first century audience for life in the heavenly kingdom. As Jesus brings his sermon to a close, he warns his hearers that they were living in a time when they would have to distinguish between competing voices.
Namely, they were living in a time when God would raise up true prophets with a message from God, but among the true prophets would be false prophets. In our passage, Jesus warns his hearers to be on their guard against false prophets.
DEFINING TERMS & HISTORICAL BACKDROP
Before we jump into our text, let’s get some historical backdrop and define terms.
PROPHET AS GOD’S VOICE
Throughout history, God has communicated to His people. How does the God of the universe, a God who is by nature, spirit, an invisible God, how does a God like that communicate to His people? He has done so historically, by speaking through his prophets, people who acted as God’s voice to his people.
PROPHETIC VOICE WAS VOCAL & SILENT IN SEASONS
One thing to keep in mind is that God sent prophets in certain seasons. The Bible teaches that there were times when God would raise up prophets with a message from him and there were other times, other seasons when it appeared as though God was silent because there weren’t many if any prophets. So before we continue, I want to make it clear that historically, Israel did not have prophets speaking to them on God’s behalf every day, or every month, or every year. The prophets came in season – and they usually came at a time when God was about to do something major, usually at a time of transition.
COMPETING VOICES AMONG THE PROPHETS
Now when God raised up these prophets, His people could pretty much count on false prophets emerging with a competing voice. Almost always, when God raised up true prophets, there were also false prophets lurking around the corner with a counter-message.
DIFFERENCE IN THE VOICES
There was usually a distinction between these voices. The voice of the true prophet was usually a consistent voice that had the following tone and message: Israel, you have departed from the law, return to obedience. You are wicked. Repent. Or else, I will bring destruction upon you at the hands of a foreign army based on the stipulations of the covenant (Deut 28). The people (and especially the leaders) didn’t really enjoy hearing that message. But just around the corner, they could find a false prophet who would have a much happier message that said something like, “No, no, don’t be alarmed by this message. Peace and safety. God will not bring destruction upon us; he will not destroy his temple, his dwelling place, his people. We are Israel, his chosen. He is for us, not against us.” This was a much more favorable message, one that people would much rather hear.
EXAMPLES OF THE FALSE PROPHETS
One book that I would encourage you to read is Jeremiah. There are many parallels between the message of Jeremiah and that of Jesus. Familiarity with the book of Jeremiah is invaluable when it comes to a proper understanding of Jesus.
Turn to Jeremiah 14. My heart goes out to Jeremiah. The poor guy was sent by God to speak to Israel on His behalf a message that was not fun to deliver. And guess who received it well? Not many, if any. His message was: repent and turn from wickedness or God will destroy you with Babylon.
Jer 14:10ff 10 This is what the Lord says about this people:
“They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.”
11 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. 12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”
13 But I said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”
14 Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatriesand the delusions of their own minds. 15 Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. 16 And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them, their wives, their sons and their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve.
So Jeremiah, God’s true prophet pronounced a coming destruction on Jerusalem by foreigners. The peoples’ response was, why do you have to be such a buzzkill, a bearer of bad news, a Debbie downer? Why can’t you be like these guys? The competing voice of the false prophets said “peace and safety” which is what their itching ears wanted to hear.
This was not exclusive to Jeremiah’s message. This was true with all of the prophetic messages. (woe when men speak well…how they treated the false prophets)
JESUS’ WORDS IN LIGHT OF THAT BACKDROP
With that understanding as our backdrop, let’s look at the words of Jesus. Keep your place marked in Jeremiah, because I’d like to go back there later. And turn over to Matt 7.
Matt 7:15-20 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 recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, 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 recognize them.
Jesus is warning his first century audience to beware, be on the lookout for false prophets. There will be competing voices. To which voice should they listen and how will they know the difference?
They come to you in sheep’s clothing… Sheep is a metaphor for the flock of God’s people. The false prophets will appear to be a part of the true people of God, but inwardly, under the SHEEP’s clothing, they will be ferocious WOLVES. This is also a metaphor. How do wolves treat sheep? They devour them. That’s one of the roles of a shepherd – to protect his sheep from being attacked by ravenous animals like wolves and lions and tigers and bears OH MY.
Beware, these false prophets will look like true prophets. After he tells them to beware, he gives some guidance in discerning between true and false prophets.
16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, 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.
By their fruit – that is how his followers were to determine whether the prophets were true or false.
TWO COMPONENTS TO FRUIT: LIFE & MESSAGE
I believe that this idea of their fruit carries with it a couple of components. One component is the fruit of their lives. What does their life look like? A true prophet should ideally be walking in the ways prescribed by God. Jesus says in this sermon that Israel is the light of the world. So those who are truly Israel will bear the fruit of the light.
What is the fruit of the light? Eph 5 tells us that the fruit of the light consists in all goodness righteousness and truth. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. So any prophet who rejects Jesus who is the truth is not bearing good fruit because the fruit of the light is truth. To reject Jesus is to reject truth and not bear the fruit of the light, but the fruit of darkness. Any prophet who rejects Jesus can be rejected as a false prophet. Additionally, the fruit of the light consists in goodness and righteousness. Jesus consistently pointed out that the religious leaders put on an outward show of righteousness but inwardly they were full of wickedness. Jesus calls his people to a righteousness that exceeded that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.
So, here, I believe that Jesus is saying that the true prophets would exhibit the fruit of true righteousness that begins in the heart, for the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
The second component pertaining to fruit is their message. What would be the fruit of their message? There were competing voices. One message was saying, “Yes, Jesus is fine; we might even agree that he was a prophet and do really cool things in his name, but nothing needs to change. See, the temple still stands. We are enjoying the Pax Romana, the peace of the Roman empire. There is no need to be alarmed; peace and safety; everything is continuing on as it has.” The competing voice was God is bringing wrath on this people in this generation, therefore, repent and believe Jesus. JTB and Jesus began this message and the true prophets who came and spoke in like manner said the same. We have Paul stating very clearly the same message in 1 Thess 5:1ff 1Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
What would be the fruit of those messages? They both could not be true at the same time. They were mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed. If Jesus promised that God would bring wrath at the hands of the Romans in that generation and the counter message was peace and safety, not to worry, God won’t destroy his people or his sanctuary, which message would bear the fruit of truth?
So when we pull back the veil of history and look back through the corridors of time, what do we see? We see that those who said peace and safety were the false prophets who led many people down the broad that lead to destruction, much like those of Jeremiahs’ day. But, those who affirmed Jesus’ message like Peter, James, John, and Paul led a righteous remnant down the narrow path and into the narrow gate that leads to life.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
THROWN IN THE FIRE
Once again, this has to be understood in light of original audience relevance. Jesus is a prophet to Israel under the OC. Jesus isn’t speaking to Americans in 2013. Many jump straight to us today, forgetting that this passage is about false prophets, and assume that this means that any Christian that isn’t living a fruitful Christian life will be burned in the fire of hell for eternity. I don’t believe that is what this text communicates. Recall again that Jesus’ ministry is very similar to that of Jeremiah. The fire Jesus speaks of here, I believe is not the fire of an eternal conscious torment in a place called hell, but the fire set ablaze by the Romans. This would be consistent with Biblical history. We have already shown the parallel between the ministry of Jesus and that of Jeremiah. Let’s look at Jeremiah’s message, remembering the context and see if we can use Scripture to interpret Scripture in order to get a proper understanding of Jesus’ use of the term fire.
Look at the following passages in Jeremiah (BABYLON).
Jer 21:8-14 8 “Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. 10 I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’
11 “Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord. 12 This is what the Lord says to you, house of David:
“‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. 13 I am against you, Jerusalem, you who live above this valley on the rocky plateau, declares the Lord—you who say, “Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?” 14 I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord. I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.’”
So in Jeremiah’s day, they, like Jesus’ audience, were listening to competing voices who gave them two options:
1) listen to God’s true prophet and find life or
2) listen to the happy fluffy message of the false prophets and meet your doom in the fire that God sets ablaze by the foreign army that he has employed to do his bidding and bring wrath upon his hard-hearted disobedient people.
Now, Jesus’ message to his original audience had special relevance to them in their day and time as the kingdom was being established. Those who followed the false prophets remained in the city of Jerusalem, trusting the faulty words of peace and safety and they were destroyed by the Romans when they set the city ablaze. But those who took seriously the words of Jesus and the true prophets fled to the mountains when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by the armies of Rome, they saved their lives and entered into the life that is truly life; they received eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
STILL RELEVANT TO US
While this message was extremely relevant to Jesus’ original audience, the message remains relevant to you and I because there are still competing voices today. There are still people who claim to be prophets with a message from God.
In the sixth century a man was born named Muhammad. This man claimed to be the true prophet of God, he gained a following and established a new religion called Islam. But you cannot reconcile the message of Muhammad as recorded in the Koran with the message of Jesus as recorded in the Bible when one of those messages says that Jesus is the only way and the other says that Muhammad is the way. You cannot reconcile those messages when one says that God’s son was crucified in order to bring men into right relationship with God and the other says God doesn’t have a son and Jesus wasn’t really crucified. Those messages are not compatible. And that message didn’t die with Muhammad. That message is alive and well; it is still growing and rapidly spreading throughout the world.
That leaves us with competing voices. If Muhammad is a true prophet of God, then that is a very serious deal. We need to be adhering to his words. You can see the seriousness of the matter.
MORMONS. In the early 1800’s another man named Joseph Smith, claimed to be a prophet of God who spoke on his behalf to restore the church to the truth, claiming that all of the various denominations have it wrong. With him emerged the book of Mormon, another document that one cannot truly reconcile with the Bible. Once again, competing voices. Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet? This is a serious matter, because if Joseph Smith is truly God’s prophet, then we must listen and obey his words.
In the past half a century, several individuals have emerged who claimed the ability to predict the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus and the subsequent end of the world.
One individual, Edgar C. Whisenant, wrote a book entitled 88 reasons why the rapture will be in 1988. 4.5 million copies were sold in bookstores and elsewhere. Whisenant was quoted as saying “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town,” and “[I]f there were a king in this country and I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana 88.”
Harold Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world.
Such voices stand in competition with the voice of Jesus who said to his first century audience in Matt 16:27-28 The son of man will come in the glory of his father, with his angels and reward men according to their deeds. I tell you the truth, some of you who are standing here will not taste death until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom.
To which of these competing voices shall we lend our ears? I will side with Jesus.
Another competing voice or voices comes from a particular group within Christianity. One of the branches of Christianity that is considered orthodox is the Pentecostal movement. According to Wikipedia, there are over 500 million adherents to Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. These groups believe in the continuation of the miraculous gifts today. To quote Wikipedia on the matter: “Any Spirit-filled Christian, according to Pentecostal theology, has the potential, as with all the gifts, to prophesy.”
So according to this group and their teachings there are over 500 million people who have the capacity to deliver a message from God to his people. That is a lot of prophetic voices, many of which are competing, sometimes with one another and sometimes with Scripture.
With all of these competing voices, it is easy for people to be confused, much like the 5 year old playing t-ball wondering “where do I throw the ball?” The t-baller has a few options to choose from and he could technically throw the ball to first, second, or third and get the out. The stakes are higher in the Major Leagues, like lots of money. But the stakes are even higher when it comes to exclusive truth claims made by those who would call themselves the prophetic voice of God. The person seeking the truth about God cannot find the truth and be brought into covenant relationship with God by following just any voice.
That is why the matter of discerning the true prophetic voice of God is so important.
WHAT DOES IT MATTER?
- It matters because truth matters, and Jesus calls his followers to be people of the truth and to reject falsehood
- It matters because when someone promotes a message of falsehood in God’s name it does a few things.
- It makes Christians look foolish; it makes Christianity look foolish and rather than drawing people into the Kingdom and toward the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it confirms in their minds that Christianity and the voice of the Bible is just one of the many competing voices out there with a truth value no greater than any of the others. The Bible is relegated to one of several dishes offered in the religious buffet of our times. So rather than expanding the Kingdom and drawing in those on the outside, it repels those on the outside who otherwise might see the truth.
- It’s harmful. It leads people into falsehood and to make decisions based on a lie. Do you know how many people quit their jobs or decided not to go to school based on the erroneous predictions about Christ’s second coming toward the end of the last century? When somebody says I have a message from God, or I make a prediction in the name of Jesus upon which I would stake my life, those who don’t know any better will drink the Kool-aid.
We have to know better, lest we be led astray by one of the competing voices.
How will we know better? By getting to KNOW OUR BIBLES. The better we know our Bibles the better we will be able to point out where a false message is inconsistent with the truth.
We will do well to get our understanding of what God has decreed and what He desires by closing our ears to all of the competing voices out there and turning our ear to the prophetic voice of the Scriptures alone. The Bible alone shall be our guiding light in understanding the will of God. Thus, in the Kingdom, our cry shall be sola scriptura!