Sitting at the Feet of Yeshua
In this post, we continue to look at Yeshua’s instructions for judging others. We also learned that practicing the Golden Rule releases the love of God in our lives and enables us to help others; even those who want to hurt us. In this post, we will look at His instructions regarding the basis for judging.
“Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road is broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Beware of false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves! You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire! So you will recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:13-20)
Since there are false prophets in the world, we must be careful of deception. But the greatest danger is self-deception. The Torah teachers and P’rushim had fooled themselves into believing that they were righteous and others were sinful. It is possible for people to know the right language, believe intellectually the right doctrines, obey the right rules, and still not be saved.
The Basis for Judging
Yeshua used two pictures to help us judge ourselves and others.
In verses 13 &14, Yeshua teaches about the narrow gate which is the wide gate which is the way to heaven and the wide gate which is the way to hell. The broad way is the easy way; it is the popular way. The fact that “everybody does it” is no proof that what they are doing is right. Quite the contrary is true: God’s people have always been a remnant, a small minority in this world. The reason is not difficult to discover: The way of life is narrow, lonely, and costly. We can walk on the broad way and keep our “baggage” of sin and worldliness. But if we enter the narrow way, we must give up those things.
Yeshua is the narrow gate we must go through to enter the Kingdom (John 10:1, 14:6). We start on the path to the Kingdom by denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24; Ephesians 2:2-3). Our flesh doesn’t die easily. It’s a painful, continuous struggle to keep the flesh under the control of the spirit (Luke 13:24). Many people do not like the concept of a narrow path to God. They choose to believe that there are many roads which lead to God, but Yeshua says that the broad path leads to destruction (Proverbs 14:12; Romans 8:6). It isn’t natural to live the life of self-denial. Crucifying our flesh is a slow, agonizing death (Romans 6:6). But, the Holy Spirit enables us to endure the struggles with the flesh so we can walk in righteousness (John 8:29; Galatians 2:20).
Which road have you taken? Here is the first test: Did your profession of faith in Messiah cost you anything? If not, then it was probably not a true profession. Many people who “trust” Yeshua never leave the broad road with its appetites and associations. They have an easy faith that makes no demands on them. Yet Yeshua said that the narrow way was hard. We cannot walk on two roads, in two different directions, at the same time.
In verse 15, Yeshua stated: “Beware the false prophets!” It isn’t easy to discern a false prophet. We cannot decide whether or not a man is a false prophet by the way he looks. He may look like a meek and mild sheep (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). A false prophet doesn’t always tell lies. He often says many things that are true, but he doesn’t give people enough truth to bring them to the light. He’ll often emphasize a partial truth and neglect the teaching of salvation through Yeshua (Jeremiah 6:13-14; 2 Peter 2:1-2; Deuteronomy 18:20-22). One way to determine whether a man is a false prophet is to watch the emphasis he puts on money and material things. The man who seeks gifts and money from the people is making fabricated stories. (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Peter 2:3) People should give to God out of love for Him, not out of duty or pressure (1 Peter 5:2). Another way to recognize a false prophet is to listen to his teachings to learn whether he offers special privileges or favors from God if you will follow his particular advice. False teachers draw people to themselves. True teachers give out the Word of God in simplicity and draw people closer to God rather than to themselves.
The fruit of a man’s ministry helps us to determine whether he is a false prophet or not. If the fruit of a ministry divides the Body of believers, then that minister is working against the will of Yeshua for His Church (John 17:11). If the effect of doctrine makes the Body unfruitful, then that sterile doctrine is false (John 15:2). If the fruit of a ministry is strife or contention, then that fruit is bad. The good fruit of a true prophet’s ministry is love. When the members of the Body of Messiah love one another, then they are walking according to the Holy Spirit (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14). The evidences of love in a ministry are unity and a building up of the Body (1 Corinthians 8:1). There should also be joy, peace, and other aspects of the love the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of believers (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).
The second test is this: Did my decision for Messiah change my life? False prophets who teach false doctrine can produce only a false righteousness (see Acts 20:29). Their fruit (the results of their ministry) is false and cannot last. The prophets themselves are false; the closer we get to them, the more we see the falseness of their lives and doctrines. They magnify themselves, not Yeshua; and their purpose is to exploit people, not to edify them. The person who believes false doctrine, or who follows a false prophet, will never experience a changed life. Unfortunately, some people do not realize this until it is too late.
In every action of life man is confronted with a choice; and he can never evade the choice, because he can never stand still. He must always take one way or the other. Because of that, it has always been one of the supreme functions of the great men of history that they should confront men with that inevitable choice. As the end drew near, Moses spoke to the people: “Look, I am presenting you today life and good, on the hand, and, on the other death and evil …. Therefore choose life, so you will live, you and your descendants.” (D’varim 30:15-20). When Joshua was laying down the leadership of the nation at the end of his life, he presented them with the same choice: “Choose today whom you are going to serve” (Joshua 24:15). Jeremiah heard the voice of God saying to him, “And here is what you are to tell the people, Thus Adonai says: Look! I am presenting you with the way of life and the way of death.” (Jeremiah 21:8).
That is the choice with which Yeshua is confronting men in this passage. There is a broad and an easy way, and there are many who take it; but the end of it is ruin. There is a narrow and a hard way, and there are few who take it; but the end of it is life.
The Jewish people knew all about false prophets. Jeremiah, for instance, had his conflict with the prophets who said “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). A wolf was the very name by which false rulers and false prophets were called. In the bad days Ezekiel had said, “Her princes in the midst of her are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood and destroying lives, to get dishonest gain” (Ezekiel 22:27). Zephaniah drew a grim picture of the state of things in Israel, when, “Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are wanton, faithless men” (Zephaniah 3:3). When Paul was warning the elders of Ephesus of dangers to come, as he took a last farewell of them, he said, “Fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Yeshua said that he was sending out his disciples as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16); and he told of the Good Shepherd who protected the flock from the wolves with his life (John 10:12). Here indeed was a picture which everyone could recognize and understand.
This passage has much to say about the evil fruits of the false prophets. What are the false effects, the evil fruits, which a false prophet may produce? There are five in all:
- Teaching is false if it produces a religion which consists solely or mainly in the observance of externals. That is what was wrong with the Torah teachers and P’rushim. To them religion consisted in the observance of the ceremonial law. If a man went through the correct procedure of handwashing, if on the Sabbath he never carried anything weighing more than two figs, if he never walked on the Sabbath farther than the prescribed distance, if he was meticulous in giving tithes of everything down to the herbs of his kitchen garden, then he was a good man.It is easy to confuse religion with religious practices. It is possible – and indeed not uncommon – to teach that religion consists in going to services, observing the Shabbat, fulfilling one’s financial obligations to the Kehilah, reading one’s Bible. A man might do all these things and be far off from being a Believer, for the life of faith is an attitude of the heart to God and to man.
- Teaching is false if it produces a religion which consists in prohibitions. Any religion which is based on a series of “thou shalt not’s” is a false religion. If a man could become a Believer simply by abstaining from doing things, being a Believer would be a much easier religion than it is. But the whole essence of our faith is that it does not consist in not doing things; it consists in doing what God designed each of us to do.
- Teaching is false if it produces an easy religion. There were false teachers in the days of Paul, an echo of whose teaching we can hear in Romans 6. They said to Paul: “You believe that God’s grace is the biggest thing in the universe?” “Yes.” “You believe that God’s grace is wide enough to cover every sin?” “Yes.” “Well then, if that be so, let us go on sinning to our hearts’ content. God will forgive. And, after all, our sin is simply giving God’s wonderful grace an opportunity to operate.” A religion like that is a travesty of religion because it is an insult to the love of God.Any teaching which takes the iron out of religion, any teaching which takes the Cross out, any teaching which eliminates the threat from the voice of Messiah, any teaching which pushes judgment into the background and makes men think lightly of sin, is false teaching.
- Teaching is false if it divorces religion and life. Any teaching which removes the Believer from the life and activity of the world is false. That was the mistake the monks and the hermits made. It was their belief that to live the Believer life they must retire to a desert or to a monastery, that they must cut themselves off from the engrossing and tempting life of the world, that they could only be truly Believer by ceasing to live in the world. Yeshua said, and he prayed for his disciples, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but that to protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)
- Teaching is false if it produces a religion which is arrogant and separatist. Any teaching which encourages a man to withdraw into a narrow sect, and to regard the rest of the world as sinners, is false teaching. The function of religion is not to erect middle walls of partition but to tear them down. It is the dream of Yeshua that there shall be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16). Exclusiveness is not a religious quality; it is an irreligious quality.
Religion is meant to bring men closer together, not to drive men apart. Religion is meant to gather men into one family, not to split them up into hostile groups. The teaching which declares that any Church or any sect has a monopoly of the grace of God is false teaching, for Messiah is not the Messiah who divides, he is the Messiah who unites. Religion has to be a relationship! A relationship with Yeshua and like-minded believers.
In my next post, we will conclude our exploration of Matthew 7 as we learn about God’s judgment of us.