I know this is the Silicon Valley and with the title of my sermon being Gates and the False Prophets, you may think I’m accusing Bill of profiting from illegal actions. No, I am talking about the kind of gates you open and the prophets are spelled P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S.
I was relaxing after church watching NCIS reruns with Abby, the Goth forensics woman, hosting the marathon and answering questions from the audience.
A couple of commercials caught my eye, as commercials are designed to do. The first one a man walks into a diner and the waitress asks if he wants pain now or later. The man is puzzled and the short-order cook in the back clarifies it: “Do you want heartburn now or later?”
The second commercial shows a woman at a diner that asks for a piece of pie. The waitress asks “Apple of cherry?” and the woman answers ”Cherry”. The waitress then asks “Cream or oil?” The woman is puzzled and the waitress shows the woman a tub of artificial whipped cream and says “oil” then shakes the can of real whipped cream and says “Cream.” Naturally the woman selects the product made from real cream.
What was really striking was that these commercials were played right after one another.
In life we have many choices to make that are often more important than what we eat and we need the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus to help us. As He continues the Sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us what path to choose in life and how to avoid being led astray.
To clarify some definitions, I am using the King James Version.
Matthew 7:13-20 (KJV)
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
I have used the King James translation here to point out a misconception many people may have about the wide and narrow gates. The word “strait” , s-t-r-a-i-t, means restricted, narrow and difficult to enter.
Jesus is telling us the road that is broad will lead us to a place that will destroy our lives. And if we take this road, we will have plenty of company.
You have probably heard the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Well, you will not find this saying in the Bible, but you can see that the broad road is very appealing to a lot of people who intend to live good lives.
You have also heard the expression “Take the easy way out.” The broad road Jesus tells us about is definitely an easy way to travel. It is a well-traveled path worn smooth by all the souls who have traveled before you.
Jesus is telling us about life. He is providing us with information not only how to live life here on earth, but also how to live live in order to get into heaven.
Jesus sets before us two cities. Let’s imagine traveling to both of them.
One city has broad roads leading up to it and a wide gate. This city accepts all comers. Remember when we discussed the splinter in your eye and the rood beam stuck in mine?
Well, I could easily walk, even strut, down that broad road with that 50-foot roof beam sticking out of my eye. In fact, I can even pass through those wide gates and look through all 360 degrees with that beam. Those gates must be at least 50 to 60 yards wide.
This city welcomes all those who took the easy way out in life. You don’t even have to check you perversions at the door. Adulterers as well as murderers and blasphemers are accepted, even if they made a halfhearted attempt in redemption.
As you peer through the gate, it may even look like heaven to you. In fact, many people who have entered this city have sworn that the wide gates really were made of bright luminescent pearl with angels leading the way saying “That’s all right. That’s all right by me” when you start to tell them about your life. “Come on in!” they exclaim.
It is only after you get past the welcoming committee that you realize something is truly amiss. A soft voice whispers in song: “Pleased to meet you. Won’t you guess my name?”
Welcome to Hell!
There is another city that Jesus places before us. This one has a narrow road.
I find that it is really difficult to get down this road with my 50-foot roof beam sticking out from my eye. Even after I removed the beam from my eye, the road is still very difficult.
You definitely need a lot of strength to get down this road. In fact, it does take a super-human industrial strength just to arrive at the gate.
Even if you make it to the gate, you may not see it. It is strait. That’s spelled S-T-R-A-I-T. To pass through this gate we have to shed some more baggage. Just throw away all your sins and repent.
If you turn sideways you may barely squeeze through. Inside, we find out, it really is heaven.
I’ve taken you through these tours to prepare you for what is to come. If the tour to heaven was real, it would be too late to shed that sinful baggage and repent. You would be refused entrance and Satan would be welcoming you into his place.
Throughout the Sermon on the mount so far, Jesus has prepared us with all the instructions we need to live a spiritual life on the narrow path and to gain entrance into heaven through that strait gate.
Here He is telling us to use it and not take the sloppy approach and use that broad road to hell.
Now that we know which road to take, Jesus wants to make sure we stay on that road.
Besides the many temptations that we have in life to get us to turn onto that wide road, there is another thing that can lead us off our narrow road while blinding us to the fact that we have left that road: false prophets.
Now a false prophet is extremely hard to detect. There are many all around us and they can take the form of mentors, teachers, priests, pastors, spiritual guides and just about any other configuration you can think of.
When Jesus said “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” he meant a wolf that looked exactly like a sheep until the wolf sprang and killed another sheep.
So, if these false prophets are so good in disguising themselves, like the mythical American Indian shape-shifters, how can we detect them?
Well, we could just wait until they bare their teeth and we find ourselves being sucked through that wide gate just like that poor sheep. Of course, that would be a little too late for our purposes.
We could also wait and watch until we see someone else drug down to the ground and devoured, but it is not that simple. The wolves often have very subtle ways to cause the sheep to stray from the narrow path and we do not often see what caused the sheep to stray in the first place.
Look right here. Jesus has a way to detect these smooth wolf operators and false prophets.
We have just to look at their fruits, and I don’t mean go look in their kitchen baskets and fridge. We look at two areas of their lives that are easily observed.
The first is their conduct. Do they act in a way that Jesus has taught? Do they help people with no ulterior motive of their own?
In other words, is their personal life mostly together. Yes, you heard me. I said mostly.
After all we are all imperfect and are prone to sin. Yes, Jesus says a tree bearing all bad fruit will be cut down and burned., but is is possible for a good tree to have one or two bad fruit on it. You just prune the bad fruit and you are as good as new.
The second area to look at is the product of their teaching. Are their students living on the narrow path? Are they headed toward the strait gate? Are the people they are mentoring improving in their Christian spirituality and practice?
If you see that their fruits are bad, get far away from them, even if they seem like they are good, as they are well adept in luring you off the path. God will take care of them in the inferno and you do not want to get caught up in their flames. Eternal flames are not a good thing to experience.
On the other hand, if their fruits are primarily good, keep them around you. In fact, with all of you being next to each other, you can often keep each other right on the narrow path of righteousness that will lead to heaven.