June 26, 2011: Listen to Christ and Avoid Spiritual Deception

Let us pray: Dear Savior, how often You speak to us and tell us exactly how to avoid inner pain while basking in spiritual victory. And how often we are slow to hear, slow to understand, and ultimately we force ourselves to re-learn the definition of Godly goodness the hard way. Today, open our ears and our hearts so that we may inwardly digest Your words of warning and then turn around and walk into the light of Your mercy and peace thus being turned into the happy, well-adjusted children our heavenly Father desires. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ALWAYS TELLS IT EXACTLY LIKE IT IS!

TEXT: Matthew 7: 15-29

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

KISS—or: keep it simple, stupid. We playfully use that expression to define the education process. It’s easy to get lost in big words, minutiae, and long explanations. Politicians who have something to hide, bankers who want to pull the wool over our eyes, and scientists who are enamored with their lofty discoveries often find their hearer’s eyes glazing over. When you’re confronted by such a situation, often you want to tell them: “Keep it simple, stupid! Reduce what you’re saying down to my level. What’s you’re problem? Do you have something to hide?”

Folks, when it comes to your life, there is no one more expert than you are. You know your thoughts better than any other human. You know the little tricks you employ to block out things you don’t want to hear. You know the mental devices you use to justify your actions and behavior both to yourself and to others. You also know, or perhaps have an inkling, just how hard you work at deceiving yourself because genuine truth, complete honesty, can really hurt!

Jesus keeps it very simple. He’s blunt, honest, and straight to the point. His agenda is to open your eyes and ears and hearts to both His truth and your inability to take it to heart. So, as we look at today’s lesson:

LISTEN TO CHRIST AND AVOID SPIRITUAL DECEPTION

I

Our text is taken from Christ’s great Sermon on the Mount. It occurred towards the beginning of Christ’s 3 year ministry. Most of you know excerpts from that sermon. He’s speaking to a large crowd gathered close to the Sea of Galilee. And the people have gathered in the hot sun and listened patiently to His direct talk because unlike most preachers of the day, Jesus doesn’t beat-around-the-bush. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” We’re told elsewhere that the “fruit of the Spirit consists of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If you take those fruits, born of true faith, together—you have a wonderful picture of what the Christian life should be. True Godly spokesmen will exhibit those fruits, too. Likewise, false prophets will exhibit their opposite—if you look closely.

To make that point understandable, Jesus goes on to use this illustration: “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

False prophets are after human glory, personal prestige, and basically anything that puffs up their inner pride. They will favor the rich over the poor. They will favor the physically attractive over the plain. They will spend the bulk of their time with those who can help them further their career instead of spending it helping those in real need. The fruit of humbleness and of bowing one’s head to Christ in spiritual poverty is not one of their attributes.

II

To be sure, such folks exhibit a veneer of respectability and of Christian humility. But, it’s just a veneer. It has no depth. Often such folks have deluded themselves into thinking that they are actually engaged in true Godly work. They deceive themselves into thinking that their thoughts are actually God’s thoughts and their ways are God’s ways. And because they always downplay sin and use grace as a prop instead of their main source of spiritual strength, such folks can draw large followings and do showy human good works—even though their hearts really aren’t in the right place. Jesus addresses such self-sent preachers of God next: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day (judgment day), ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

We know from history that such false teachers arose after Christ. The popular bishop of Alexandria named Arius, is one such example. He preached enthralling sermons. People flocked to hear him. Church leaders around the world of the time sought his advice. Politically, he was the “golden boy.” But, he was also a heretic. He denied that Jesus was the eternal Son of God and instead taught that Jesus was just a really great guy that God adopted as His Son because Christ was really nice.—I guess it was a variation of modern Mormonism which says that we’re all “sons of God, like Jesus,” and that God adopts all of us as His “sons” when we try really hard to be moral and upstanding in our lifestyle. But, who is moral enough? Who is perfect enough? Yes, people deceive themselves spiritually by applying man’s standards to God and thinking they are exactly the same. And when someone does that in all sincerity, they actually make a mockery of the cross. No, it took the perfect, eternal Son of God to physically die on a cross in order to make eternal peace with God on our behalf. Faith alone in Him alone saves. Forgiveness of sins is a Godly gift to you and me. We can never earn it. We can never deserve it. Thinking otherwise is pure spiritual self-deception. And Christ is never pleased when we live a lie.

III

One of the most devious of Satan’s ploys is to try to get us to have faith in our faith instead of having faith in Jesus Christ. This is especially popular today. You and I speak a lot about faith. But our references to it are always grounded and founded in Christ, aren’t they? It comes from Him. It’s the Spirit’s gift to us. It’s all about Jesus and what He promises to us. It never seeks to diminish Him in any way. But, that isn’t the way the world defines faith today, is it? Instead, they say that all faith is just some hoped for human dream of a better tomorrow based upon the power of those human dreams, or “good thoughts” or “positive energy”—as some call it. Such folks have little time for going to church, reading God’s Word, pondering it, and seeking to apply it daily to their lives. And when that occurs, their spiritual deception is complete. They have totally perverted the true meaning of faith, turned it into a work of man, made it their current idol, and somehow still think it will protect them when evil comes their way. Again, Jesus addresses this issue, too.
“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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

His point is clear. He’s telling them: “Listen to the real Source of spiritual truth. Look at the fruits of My ministry. Behold My miracles. Watch My passion. Hear My cries from the cross. Behold My resurrection. Experience the out-pouring of My Spirit on Pentecost. Believe in My love for you because I alone have done the impossible and triumphed over all evil with complete Godly humbleness. And that’s why I am the Rock of your salvation.”

Finally, none of you should skip over the final words of our lesson because they really prove the point of our theme: Listen to Christ and Avoid Spiritual Deception. On the surface Matthew’s aside here seems rather laudatory of the crowd. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
The key word here is “amazed.” In the Greek text it means “marvel at”, or standing there with an open mouth in wonderment—like a herd of cows gazing at their first tractor. Well, standing around with your mouth open at Christ’s words doesn’t really accomplish anything. It’s a passive response to His call to action. It’s really a contradiction in terms. So, don’t just be “amazed.” No, keep on Listening to Christ and then, on the basis of His teachings, actively seek to avoid spiritual deception by continually building your faith in Him each day, each Sunday, each year. Build on the Rock and not what “feels right for me.” Then when troubles come in life, you will not be swept away by them. Amen