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Who Gets In?
September 28, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 7:15-23

A lille girl was leafing her way through a book and asked her father, “Daddy, why don't angels have whiskers? He said, “Well, maybe it's because they get into heaven by a close shave.” Who gets in the kingdom of heaven, remembering that the kingdom of heaven refers not only to a relationship after death, but begins here. When we enter into relationship with Christ, we enter into heaven here. That relationship grows, is nurtured and strengthened, and then persists and lasts through death into eternity. So who gets into that relationship? Who gets into heaven? 

There are so many experts today. Can you remember a time when there have been so many people with so many answers and who are so sure of their answers as to who gets in? We're bombarded with their information and their certainty. Well, let's look at our text today in the book of Matthew where Jesus had some very direct statements to make about who gets into the kingdom of heaven. He began in 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” The prophet was an institution of the Old Testament, a familiar figure throughout Israel, a figure in the New Testament and in the early church as well. A person would wander from place to place claiming to be inspired by God, speaking, preaching and teaching. Jesus was a prophet. The fact that Jesus was a nomad, wandered from place to place and gathered people around him was not an uncommon thing in that day. There were many such persons. But Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets.”

Especially was this true in the early church where people wandered from church to church. Often they were very genuine and often they were very helpful like Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Silas and so forth. The distinction with them is that they were sent from the Jerusalem Church to visit the other churches. But, there were many other persons wandering, teaching and claiming to be a voice of God.

Jesus said there's a test to determine whether a prophet is a true or false prophet. He said in verse 15, “You will be able to tell them by their fruits.” A good tree cannot give rotten fruit and a rotten tree does not give good fruit. So, by a person's character, you can ultimately see whether they are true or false. That test was maybe a little general so the early church devised some more specific tests. We have a document now that was written about 100 AD called the “Didache”, which is a Greek word for “teaching”. In that document are some tests of whether a prophet is a true or false prophet, besides their character. I'd like to read two of these tests. 

Number one, if the prophet remains three days, he is a false prophet—something like the old adage—after three days company begins to smell like fish. If a prophet stays one or two days, he is a true prophet, but if the prophet persists, hangs on and enjoys the luxury of being entertained and hosted by the generosity of that church, that person is probably there for the comfortable life and not to preach the Word of God. 

The second test of a prophet: a true prophet asks for bread. If the prophet asks for money, he or she is a false prophet. To feed them is fine, but if they ask for money, beware of false prophets. I'm reminded today of the barrage of religious material with which we are bombarded. At our doors, in the mail, on the radio, on TV, we are bombarded with messages from people who are so sure they have the truth—with their hand out. On our vacation, we saw Shirley MacLaine in Reno. The first table we were taken to was right behind a pole. So we asked if there might be a little better table. Oh, yes, there just happened to be a nice table right at the edge of the balcony that had a beautiful view. As we were seated, there was the waiter with his hand out. It cost $5 to sit at that table. 

A lot of the things we see and read are dispensing salvation with their hands out. We've noticed on one of these TV programs that to pledge is an 800 toll free number. But to ask for prayer, you have to pay for long distance! Some of these groups are big business with lots of money, and some of them are even getting a little dangerous. They’re organizing people to directly influence the election. In the name of Jesus Christ and in the name of morality, which always is their morality, they are seeking to influence the election. Beware of false prophets. Of course, there are many valid evangelists with very valid ministries, but beware. 

The legitimate church is run quite differently. The legitimate church asks for contributions, of course, and we are challenged to give because of our relationship to God, because of our stewardship. We’re asked to give to support God's ministry. But everything we give is accounted for. Every person who works in the church is under a salary set by boards, committees and commissions. Everything is above board. Every offering that is taken in this church for a cause is monitored, watched and is held accountable. 

If you feel inspired to give to some causes, or some kind of movements, ask for their financial statement. Ask to see their finances. Ask to see their accountings; some won't respond. Ask if they're supported by a legitimate denomination. “Beware of the false prophets” says Jesus, “for they come as wolves in sheep's clothing.” And they give conflicting messages on what is the gospel and who gets in. Jesus goes on in this passage, and tells us who gets in.

First, words alone are not guarantees. In 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” Words alone are not guarantees. When you're confronted with these people who have all the words laid out in neat pamphlets and little cards 1, 2, 3, 4,5 on how to be born again. (It’s a nice system they've developed), when you're bombarded, just remember all the right words are not enough. That's what Isaiah said in 29:13-14, ”These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and tradition which they have simply memorized. So I will startle them with one unexpected blow after another. Those who are wise will turn out to be fools, and all their cleverness will be useless.” 

Not knowing all the words does not necessarily mean you're not a Christian. If you get confused and can't debate all these people with all their words, don't feel you're in no way less a Christian or don't have the Holy Spirit, because words alone are not guarantees. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Likewise, Jesus said that great accomplishments are not necessarily guarantees. Listen to these words in verses 22 and 23. “When the day comes, (that is judgment day), many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces. I have never known you. Away from me you evil people.” Not even prophesying, foretelling the future, working great miracles, casting out demons necessarily means that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. It does not necessarily mean they are in the kingdom of heaven. Can you hear that? He's saying that mighty accomplishments, great crowds, huge success are not necessarily indicative that it is guided by the Holy Spirit. 

And likewise, if you've ever felt inferior because you don't work miracles, or you don't speak in tongues, or you have not cast out demons, or you don't know all the lingo—if you've ever felt inferior, take heart, those things are not necessarily of the Spirit, not in themselves alone. Jesus goes on. Who gets in? Verse 21, “The person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The person who does the will of God—not just talk, not mighty deeds, but the person who simply does the will of God. A test of the validity of your relationship to God through Christ in the Holy Spirit is If that relationship is growing, developing and moving, it will be evident in the fruits of your living. Increasingly doing the will of God and being the will of God is the test. Not all the words. The test is in the living, in the doing.  

Then, what is the will of God? This passage is at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five, six and seven of Matthew. I believe what Jesus means by the will of God is the Sermon on the Mount. Those qualities as they grow and become more evident in our living are indications that we are in the kingdom of heaven. Read those chapters prayerfully at home. But let me read a few excerpts. Jesus said, 

Blessed are those who know they are spiritually poor, humble, merciful to others, pure in heart, those who work for peace. 

Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 

Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. When you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to God. 

Forgive others the wrongs they have done to you. 

Do not store up riches for yourselves. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Do not be worried about the food and drink you need or about your clothes. Do not worry about tomorrow. 

Do not judge others. 

Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you. 

Do for others what you want them to do for you. 

Go in through the narrow gate because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris