Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Listen carefully; I have an important truth to share with you today: It is not ok to say that it is ok to do what the LORD has said it is not ok to do. Now, that seems like an easy enough principle to understand, doesn’t it? Apparently, unfortunately, it isn’t. Similarly, it is not ok to say that it is not ok to do what the LORD has not said it is not ok to do. You see, that’s the other side of the same coin. So, do you get it? Let me summarize: No one should permit, encourage, and bless what God has forbidden and has not blessed, and, likewise, no one should forbid, discourage, or condemn what God has not forbidden or condemned. Therefore, whoever claims to speak for God had better only say what God has said, without adding to it, and without taking away from it. That is what it means to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God through whom He speaks, called and sent by God to proclaim His Word to men.
And yet, the LORD has said that there will be false prophets who speak “visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” Such false prophets continually say to people who despise the Word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you” and “no disaster shall come upon you,” or, in other words, “Go ahead, keep on doing what you’re doing. God said not to? Oh, that’s a misinterpretation. Go ahead, it’s ok. God loves you.” Go ahead and curse like a sailor. Go ahead and download music and movies without paying for them. Go ahead and have sex outside of marriage. Go ahead and cheat on your taxes. Go ahead and terminate that pregnancy. Go ahead and bless that same-sex marriage. God didn’t mean what those bigoted, hate-mongering, fear-peddling preachers say He meant. God loves you and He just wants you to be happy. The LORD says that such false prophets “heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” They are those false prophets who “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran,” says the LORD; “I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my Words to my people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
And it is an unfortunate reality that there will always false prophets, for they will always have an audience to hear them, men who want to have preached to them only what they want to hear. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Therefore it is imperative for a Christian to be able to discern a true prophet from a false prophet, the true preaching and teaching of the Word of God from the lies, distortions, and myths devised by men. But, how is this to be done? How can you tell a true prophet, true teaching, from a false prophet and lies? Your Lord Jesus teaches you that you will recognize them by their fruits.
By their fruits? What does it mean that you will be able to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet by their fruits? What kind of fruit does a prophet bear? Jesus expands the analogy saying, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” That is to say, if you’re eating tasty and nourishing apples, it’s because they came from a good apple tree. One simply cannot get good fruit from a bad tree. Now, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. If it is the pure Word of God, it is good fruit, good to eat because it nourishes your faith and strengthens you on the way to eternity. If, however, God’s Word is perverted, corrupted, or watered down with human opinion, it is poor fruit. Instead of promoting spiritual health, it gradually introduces the poison of false doctrine into your spiritual diet until you are no longer able to judge what is true and what isn’t.
But Jesus also teaches you that a false prophet will often try to deceive you by appearing to be good and true. Though they are truly ravenous wolves, they will come to you in sheep’s clothing. This is to say, additionally, that you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by their outward appearance. Indeed, there are many who claim to prophesy in the Name of the Lord who appear to be true on the outside, but inwardly are diseased and full of uncleanness leading to death. To your eye they may appear to be charismatic and attractive, successful, having great wealth and large congregations, or they may appear to be humble and poor and full of compassion for those in need. But, you cannot discern a true prophet from a false prophet by what your eyes see, but you must discern them by their fruits.
Again, the fruit of a prophet is what he preaches. Does he preach God’s Word purely, without adding to it or taking away from it, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even when it convicts you, even when it convicts himself? Or, does he pervert, corrupt, or water down God’s Word with human opinion, preaching to the itching ears of men? His appearance is not important. What does he preach? What is his fruit? Is it good to eat, nourishing and strengthening your faith? Or is it bad, poisoning you with false doctrine?
Let us consider how it was in the beginning. In Eden there were two trees, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By appearance, the fruit of both trees was good and attractive. However, God’s Word proscribed that the fruit of the Tree of Life would give life and that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring death. There was a false prophet in the garden who came to our First Parents in a disguise to deceive them. He told them lies, twisting God’s Word about the forbidden fruit, saying that it would not bring death but rather knowledge and god-like wisdom and enlightenment. Listening to the words of the false prophet, and judging by appearances that the fruit was good, Adam and Eve both ate the poisonous fruit and sin and death entered the world.
Ever since the Fall, there have been true prophets and false prophets. The true prophets were not perfect, but they were sinful men just like you and me, but they proclaimed and taught the Word of the Lord in its truth and purity, both its condemning Law and its comforting Gospel, always pointing to the great and true Prophet to come, the Messiah, whom God would send to destroy the power of death. The false prophets employed the tactics of the great False Prophet, lies and deceptions, and they watered down and corrupted the Word of the Lord with human opinions. They obscured the Gospel proclamation of God’s salvation in the Messiah, Jesus, and taught men salvation by works or to be comfortable in their sin and that there was no need for salvation at all.
In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, the True Prophet, Jesus, to destroy the power of death that came from the poisonous fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to restore to us access to the fruit of the Tree of Life. He took your poison, sin, and death into Himself, He drank from the cup of God’s wrath down to its bitter dregs until it was finished and there was nothing left, and then He died upon the cursed tree of the cross. There is nothing attractive in the outward appearance of either the great Prophet Jesus or the good fruit that He brings. As the Prophet Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
Yet He is the true Prophet of God. And, blessed are those who are not offended by Him. His Name is Truth and His tree is the Tree of Life. From it He brings you good fruit that leads to eternal life. Whoever eats of His fruit will live forever. Whoever tastes of His hand will taste and see that the Lord is good. He is the righteousness of the sinner and the justifier of the guilty. He is the Man of Mercy to those who are afraid. He is the lover of souls to those who think themselves hated by God. He brings the medicine of immortality and bears the fruit of eternal life. And those who hear Him receive Him gladly and are welcomed by Him into the kingdom of heaven.
And so, it is true, you will know a true prophet by his fruits. That is to say, what fruit does he proclaim to you? What fruit does he direct you to? What fruit does he serve to you to feed you? The true prophet will proclaim, direct, and serve to you the good fruit of the Tree of Life, Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins and for life that never ends. The true prophet will only and always point you to Jesus and His fruits and He will feed you with His pure Word and His holy body and precious blood, the fruits of death on the cursed tree of the cross, become for you now the Tree of Life with every good.
He is not one who is far off. He is at hand. And by His wounds you are healed. By His suffering you find peace with God. All who look to Him are heard and all who call upon His Name are saved from death and hell. Come and eat from the Tree of Life. Eat the good fruit of the true Prophet and be saved.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.