Trinity 8 (Mt 7, 15–23)

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You will recognize them by their fruits.

᛭ INI ᛭

Jesus gives us an uncomfortable word today. It’s a word that’s not popular in our day. In fact, Jesus warns us today. He warns us—warns us with the exact same words—twice! “You will recognize them by their fruits.” When something’s said twice, it’s probably important. We should pay attention. Do we care to listen? What and who is Jesus warning us about? He’s warning us about false preachers, false prophets.

Prophets are preachers. We just think prophets are those who told the future, but that’s not quite it. Sure, they said things that would happen in the future, but that’s not always what a prophet did. The prophet’s message was simple: “Thus says Yahweh”; “Thus says the LORD.” The Lord could be using them to talk about future things or just a message for the people of their day. But prophets were messengers. Preachers who preached the Lord’s Word.

Now, when it comes to Jesus’ warning about false prophets, well, we often ignore Jesus’ warning. In an age when everyone’s opinion matters, when we don’t want to be judgmental, when we reject objective truth, well, Jesus’ words don’t fit. So we often set them aside. We judge preachers and pastors not based on what Jesus says here or God’s Word in general, but we judge pastors by our own thoughts, our own ideas. We judge pastors by outward appearances. Or we don’t judge them at all. We’ll welcome them all! Because we really think: “There’s no such thing as false prophets, false preachers.”

But Jesus’ warning stands firm. He says it twice! We do well to pay attention. Not just for truth’s sake, but because false preachers, false prophets will lead you to the broad road that leads to hell (Mt 7:13), they will cause you to build your faith on sand (Mt 7:24–27). So, let us consider Jesus’ warning, then. (There is Gift in it.)


(I. What the appearance and fruits of false prophets are.)

NO MATTER THEIR APPEARANCES. What are their appearances? What do false prophets, false preachers look like? Well, Jesus tells us: “Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.” They look good! Smooth talkers. Put together. Successful ministries. Great personality. They look innocent. They might even have big churches, growing churches! They’ll even claim to be doing the Lord’s work.

Jesus warns us: “Inwardly they’re ravenous wolves.” (Paul says the same in Acts 20) Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He’s talking about preachers! “On [the last] day,” Jesus says, “many will say to me, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

So if they look good on the outside, how can we know they’re false? By their fruits, that is, by their preaching. That’s what Jesus says. Truth is, their preaching might look good on the outside, but it’ll be rotten on the inside. Just like the fruit from Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil looked good, but it “on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die,” as we heard last week. They may even use Scripture! Even the devil knows the Bible, used it when tempting Jesus. False prophets can even do great things! (Mt 24)

Their fruits, their preaching must be discerned from Scripture alone. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning they are, when their Word or their actions disagree with what the Bible clearly says, they are by definition a false prophet. This is why God’s Word is important for you to know. Why the congregation at prayer is important. You then will know how to discern the fruit of preachers. You, too, could be like Priscilla and her husband Aquila who corrected pastor Apollos at Sunday afternoon dinner so he could know “the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18) This would also help you cherish what the Lord says about false prophets in Deuteronomy 13.

It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. The problem is that false preaching is rotten. Curdled milk is curdled milk no matter how much. Their preaching leads away from the Truth, the truth of Jesus. What He says by the Spirit in Genesis through Revelation. The end of false preaching is destruction, a house built on sand. It leads to hell. That’s the why Jesus warns us the way He does today—twice! Ignoring Jesus is neither right nor is it safe.


So, Jesus warns you twice:


But where’s the gift in this? I did say there is one. It’s this: it all has to do, then, not with false prophets but true prophets.

(II. What the appearance and fruits of true preachers are.)

So, what are the appearances of true preachers? What do they look like? Well, they might not look like much at all! Well, at least, according to human standards. Simple. Ho-hum. Scattered. Disorganized. Not overly winsome. Plain. Ordinary. (Sadly, some churches get rid of their pastors for these things.) Who does the Lord use as preachers in the Bible? A donkey preached to Balaam. Elijah was sarcastic. Elisha was bald. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were uneducated fishermen. Paul was often weak, sick, or injured.

But maybe they do have some of the qualities of false preachers. Maybe they are winsome, likable, successful. Again, it doesn’t come down to appearances but their fruits, their preaching. The preaching of true preachers might not seem that great according to worldly standards either. Might be foolish or repetitive, as we heard Paul say a few weeks ago: “The word of the cross is [foolish] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…It pleased God through the [foolishness of preaching] to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1)

The message of true preachers is also discerned by God’s Word. It delivers the whole counsel of God, as Paul says in acts. But it’s more than that. They preach and teach and connect everything to God who “purchased the Church with His own blood.” He purchased you with the same. Your sins are all forgiven. You are set free from plugged ears and hard hearts. Jesus died and rose for all that. Shed His blood for the whole lot of sin.

So it doesn’t matter how simple or eccentric the preacher, doesn’t matter his—his—manner of speech, how direct or how much stories he has. His Word, when it delivers Christ, preaches Christ, points you to Christ from beginning to end, that’s a fruit that’s not only pleasing, but it will actually give you life. It will deliver you onto the narrow way. It will build your faith on the Rock of Christ.


False preachers and true preachers. Jesus warns us about the false ones, and by doing that He is trying to point us to the true ones. It doesn’t matter how they look or even how they sound. It’s their message that matters.


Whether they’re winsome or likable or maybe not so much—doesn’t matter. Whether their preaching and teaching is organized or scatter-brained—that doesn’t matter either. From conversations, I know that some of you put me on the more positive end of the spectrum. In you the words of Peter are fulfilled: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” For this I’m very thankful.

It’s not only a matter of right and wrong. Jesus warns you the way He warns you because He wants you to be saved. He doesn’t want you carried around by every wind of doctrine. He wants you to hear about Him, to be on the narrow path, to be founded on Him. “No other foundation has been laid except Jesus Christ.” For that He sends His preachers, the true prophets, and warns you about the false preachers.

“I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.” Look at their fruits, their sermons, their actions, their teaching in the light of His Word. If their fruits don’t line up with Jesus and His Word, it’s not a small thing. “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet…For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

This has nothing to do with how we treat everyday Christians who may attend places with false preachers. Mercy, kindness, understanding, and patience from God’s Word for them. For the false preachers? Ain’t nobody got time for that!


Jesus wants this to happen so that you hear about Him, believe and stay believing in Him, and be saved.

᛭ INI ᛭

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