The Greatest Sermon in History Part 21
Beneath the Surface
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
July 18, 2004


Main Passage: Matthew 7:15-23 (NLT)



As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover. In other words, not everything is always as it appears. What’s on the surface may not be what you’ll find if you dig a little. What may come off as one thing may in actuality be something quite different.

A number of years ago I was working at a church in Bedford and there was one young girl in the church who was constantly trying to pull a practical joke on me. And she was finally successful… she got me with a Whoopie Cushion. Now, I’m away that in the Bible God says, “Vengeance is mine.” But I believe there’s an exception made when a Whoopie Cushion is involved. So I vowed that someday, somewhere, somehow I would get even. And for a long time, she was on the lookout for any attempt on my part to get even with her. Finally, about three years later, she had stopped worrying about it. I saw my chance, and I took it.

I challenged her to an Oreo Cookie eat-off. It was me against her, and we’d see who could eat Oreo Cookies the fastest. And she agreed to the contest. Little did she know, though, that I had taken an Oreo Cookie, took it apart, removed the cream, and replaced it with toothpaste. And it wasn’t long before she discovered that the Oreo Cookie she thought she was eating wasn’t what it appeared to be.

[Hand out Oreos]

Things aren’t always as they appear to be. People aren’t always as they appear to be. Like the TV Host who spouts off about her faith in God but lives with her boyfriend. Or the popular TV preacher and best-selling author who welcomes Muslims and Jews to speak to his church and endorses their beliefs. Or the family values guru who was found to have a nasty gambling habit.

In the Greatest Sermon in History, Jesus warns us about people like this… people who give the appearance of one thing but in truth are something quite different. This morning, we’re going to look at these words of Jesus found in Matthew 7 and we’re going to see how He identified three different categories of people that may or not be what they appear to be… people you can find in the Church today.


Three Categories of “Religious” People:


1. The Dangerous Deceivers

Jesus warned,

Matthew 7:15-16 (NLT)
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart. You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You don’t pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles.”

In Old Testament times, it was common for someone to claim to be a prophet of God as a way to gain influence and power. Often, they would even gain the ear of the king. These false prophets would make all kinds of pronouncements, usually pretty nondescript and always what the people wanted to hear. And through their prophesying, they could gain a large following and deceive many, many people. But then, that was the Old Testament. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen today. Or does it?

I was flipping around the channels on Friday night and I can across programs featuring Reverend Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, David Koresh and Branch Davidian, Reverend Moon and the Unification Movement, Bruce Hawthorn of the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter, and David Berg of the Children of God (otherwise known as The Family).

Jim Jones convinced his followers that through a mass-suicide they could move to another planet for a life of bliss, and was eventually able to convince 914 people to commit suicide together. David Koresh believed he was the final Messiah, and ended up leading his Waco, Texas based Branch Davidian in a stand-off against the FBI. 80 people were found dead when the 51-day stand-off finally ended in a fiery mess. Reverend Moon’s followers consider him to be the second coming of Christ, and he has described himself as “the savior and messiah of humanity.” He even claims that several dozen dead US presidents have endorsed him from the spirit world. And over the years he has gained a worldwide following of about 3 million. Bruce Hawthorn began what has been described as a biblical medical plan called the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter. There was nothing wrong with the concept itself, except that over the years Hawthorn funneled off $25 million for himself and his family and misused ministry funds for his own personal gain, claiming that the Bible teaches that ministers are supposed to be paid well. Well, that’s true (I’m not going to argue with him on that point), but I don’t think that gives him permission to do things that are blatantly illegal. David Berg, who preferred to call himself Father Moses David, formed a cult back in the 70s which taught that you find God through sex and he organized the group’s “evangelism” through escort services and prostitution, even using children as young as 11 or 12. That cult is still active today, even though many of the members have contracted STDs and the children of the original members are finding their way out of it.

All five of these were featured on TV in one evening. These are all people who have misled their followers, feeding them false hopes, lies, and empty promises. They are all dangerous deceivers… false prophets who have gained international recognition. But not all false prophets can be seen on CNN. There are false prophets all around us. Even within the structure of the Christian Church, you will find them. An interesting fact about the five leaders I just mentioned is that at least four of them were involved in a reliable Christian denomination at on time or other.

How can you recognize them? Jesus said you can identify them by the way they act.

Matthew 7:16 (NLT)
“You can detect them by the way they act…”

With that in mind, let me give you two characteristics of a false prophet…

  • Glorify Self over God

    They are motivated by an insatiable hunger for fame, money and/or power. They act out of selfish ambitions and desires. Over time, they may even begin to exercise their power in a dictatorial way. They’re not focused on God. They don’t exalt Christ as the Bible instructs us to do. They raise themselves up to gain applause, admiration and accolades. A false prophet says, “Look at me.” A true prophet says, “Look at Christ.”

    The Life Application Bible says…

    “You can tell who [false prophets] are because in their teaching they minimize Christ and glorify themselves.”
    ~ Life Application Bible notes
  • Distort the Truth

    They start with the truth, but then distort it to mean something quite different. They say what they believe people want to hear, not what they need to hear. And the two are not always the same. For example, a false prophet may tell you that if you are truly serving God then you will experience great health and wealth. If you have health problems, if you have financial problems, then they would tell you that it is because of sin in your life. And they would promise you that if you place your faith in God everything will be all right. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?

    Acts 20:29-30 (NLT)
    I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some of you will distort the truth in order to draw a following.

    A false prophet will distort the truth in order to draw people to themselves. Maybe they even convince themselves that what they’re teaching is true. That’s why it’s so important that you know the truth for yourself. If you don’t know the truth, you won’t know when someone’s distorting it.

    Let me show to a painting by Picasso. One painting, shown right-side up, on its left side, on its right side, and even upside down. Can you tell me which way it’s supposed to be?


    Let me show you the right way [Show a false way].

    If you’re not familiar with the original, then you can’t tell me with certainty which way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is with truth. If you don’t know the truth, you can easily be led to believe that it’s something else.

    See how easy it is to deceive someone? Robin and I were discussing this week how easy it would be to start a cult in our world today, simply because people don’t know the truth. Therefore they’re open to anything that may be disguised as truth. How do you learn the truth? Read your Bible. Read devotionals. Read the writings of authors respected across denominations. Pray. Get close to God so you can recognize His character. Then you can recognize anything that’s out of character, too.

    Oh, by the way, that’s not the right picture. This is the way Picasso intended it to be.

There’s a warning about false prophets and false teaching…

Warning: Be Aware and Beware

We read from the New Living Translation earlier… let me read the same passage from the Message version of the Bible…

Matthew 7:15-19 (MSG)
“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character.”

Be aware that the deceivers are out there, be aware that they’re trying to mislead you with distorted truth, and be careful not to be drawn in by them. Carefully examine their words and their lives to make sure they are consistent with Biblical truth. Check out their character. That’s not to say that everyone’s perfect. I’m not advocating that we go on a witch-hunt to find false prophets. Differences of opinion and differences of interpretation are okay and are actually conducive to healthy discussion, but when someone consistently teaches distorted truths and deliberately leads you astray, beware.


2. The Misguided Masses

Jesus said…

Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT)
“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’”

I call this group the “masses” because I believe there are many people in the world today who are counting on the wrong things to get them into Heaven. They’ve placed their trust in the wrong criteria. Jesus said “many will tell me…” Not just one… not just a few… many.

“Satan’s ultimate weapon is to make us think we are saved.”
~ Jason Cole

If you went door to door in the city of Charlottetown asking people, “Why do you think you should be allowed into Heaven?” what do you think would be the most common response?

(“Because I’m a good person”)

Here are some statistics for you…

55% of all adults say that a good person can earn a place in Heaven.
60% of teens believe in salvation by good deeds.
Only 28% strongly disagrees with the concept of salvation by good deeds.
~ statistics provided by Barna Research Group of Ventura, California,

That’s the first characteristic of the Misguided Masses…

  • Count on Deeds for Salvation

    One of the movies in the theatre right now is King Arthur. I have not seen it, but from what I’ve read, Arthur in this movie is a follower of Pelagian theology. Pelagius was a 5th century monk who denied in the existence of Original Sin and believed instead that Adam just set a bad example. In contrast, Jesus set a good example. He denied that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin and that we are saved by the grace of God. In his view, Jesus merely countered the bad example of Adam. And if we work hard and strive to follow the model that Jesus set for us, then we can earn salvation for ourselves. So in the movie, Arthur is always talking about doing the honorable thing because he believes that is how he will achieve salvation.

    Problem is, that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that salvation is found not in our own efforts but in Christ alone. Read this with me…

    Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
    God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

    So the Misguided Masses count on deeds for salvation. They also immerse themselves in religion.
  • Immerse Themselves in Religion

    They know the “Language”. They can talk like a believer. They call Jesus “Lord” and “Master.” They talk about doing things “in Your name.” But listen to what Jesus said…

    Matthew 7:21 (MSG)
    “Knowing the correct password--saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance--isn’t going to get you anywhere with me.”

    Not only do they know the language, they know the actions…

    Matthew 7:22 (NLT)
    “On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’”

    They do all the things you’d expect someone to do in a religion. They blend in. And they get lost in the crowd. I wonder how many people we have attending our churches today that are like that… just going through the motions. They say what they’re supposed to say, they do what they’re supposed to do, and they think that’s all there is to it. Yet they miss out on the single most important and most rewarding part of the Christian life. Listen to what Jesus tells them…

    Matthew 7:23 (NIV)
    “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

    “I never knew you.” The whole point of Christianity is to know God and have Him know you. And even if you do all kinds of great, even miraculous things in the name of religion, if you never know God personally then you’re missing out. You’re misguided. You’re lost.

    Say you wanted a job so you went up to Wal*Mart and just started working. You mopped the floors, restocked the shelves, cleaned up messes, arranged displays, helped customers find what they were looking for. And let’s say you really enjoy it and discover you’re good at it… possibly even the best at doing what you’re doing. At the end of the week, you show up to pick up your paycheque only to have the management look at you blankly and ask, “Who are you?” You didn’t go through the process of applying for a job, you just started working. They had no idea who you were, had no record of you, had no type of relationship with you… Are they going to pay you? No. Because they don’t know who you are. You can do all kinds of good deeds and religious stuff, but if you don’t know Jesus, it’s worthless as far as your eternity is concerned.

    The Apostle Paul was a zealously religious man. He took his religious duties seriously. No one could fault him for that. But when he finally came to understand that what he needed most was a relationship and not a religion, this is what he said…

    Philippians 3:7-10 (NLT)
    I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.

There’s a course correction for the misguided masses. It’s this:

Course Correction: Put First Things First

In Luke 10, there’s the account of Jesus visiting the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Many of you already know where I’m going with this. Martha decided she was going to prepare a big extravagant dinner for Jesus, and she worked hard on it. Meanwhile, Martha’s sister Mary just sat in the other room visiting with Jesus and listening to His teaching. Before long, Martha noticed that she was doing all the work and asked Jesus, “Does this seem fair to you? I’m out here slaving over a hot stove and my sister can’t bother to lift a finger to help me!” Do you know how Jesus responded? He said…

Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)
“My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it--and I won’t take it away from her.”
(Complete passage – Luke 10:38-42)

What was Jesus saying? He was saying “Put first things first.” The things you do are important, but they are nothing in comparison to the importance of knowing Me personally. Knowing Me comes first, everything else is a distant second.”

So you have the Dangerous Deceivers and the Misguided Masses. And then you have a third group identified in this section of the Sermon on the Mount…


3. The True Disciples

Jesus described these true disciples as a good tree bearing good fruit. Listen…

Matthew 7:17-20 (NLT)
A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.

  • Produce the Fruit of the Spirit

    If you are not a true disciple, your life will produce one kind of fruit. If you are a true disciple, your life will produce another kind of fruit. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this in Galatians 5. First of all, if you’re not a true disciple…

    Galatians 5:19-21 (NLT)
    When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

    To one degree or another, if you’re not a true disciple your life will produce this kind of fruit. Some of these seem pretty serious, others seem pretty common… impure thoughts, lust, jealousy, selfishness. But if you are not a true disciple then out of your life will flow all kinds of sinfulness.

    If, however, you are a true disciple, they the Holy Spirit will transform you from what you once were and you will begin to produce another kind of fruit.

    Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
    But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    This generally doesn’t happen overnight, but as a believer you will begin to notice that the scales tip more and more toward the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Are you growing as a believer? Are you producing this kind of fruit? Is this more evident now than, say, a year ago? Six months ago? Trust in God, commit to Him, get to know Him, and allow His Holy Spirit to transform your life.

    There’s one other characteristic of true disciples that I want to mention.
  • Exalt God over Self

    As we discussed earlier, the dangerous deceivers are out for fame and power. They want to glorify themselves. Even the misguided masses are trying to draw attention to who they are and what they can do. But a true disciple draws attention to who Jesus is and what He can do.

    John the Baptist is someone who understood this. John was a prophet called by God the Father to prepare the way for Jesus to begin His ministry. John clearly understood his role. He knew that it was all about Jesus, not about himself. And even though he became a public figure before Jesus did, and even though he had developed a reputation and some degree of fame, he willingly set all that aside in order to honour Jesus. In fact, when Jesus began His ministry, this is what John said. Read this with me…

    John 3:30 (NLT)
    “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

    For the true disciples this morning, I have this admonition…

    Admonition: Grow and Show

    Grow in your faith and in your relationship with Christ, and show his love to everyone you meet. Show Him and His light to a world that desperately needs it.




Copyright © 2004