Trinity VIII - St. Matthew 7:15-23 - July 26, 2015

Order of Service - Pg. 15
Hymn #269 O Lord, Our Father, Shall We Be Confounded
Hymn #265 Thine Honor Save, O Christ, our Lord
Hymn #290 We Have a Sure Prophetic Word

Jeremiah 15:19-21
Romans 8:12-17
St. Matthew 7:15-23


Grant to us, Lord, we beseech Thee, the Spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good without Thee, may by Thee be enabled to live according to Thy will; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

1)         Once again Jesus warns us to beware false prophets. This is something critically important for the church to hear on a yearly basis. The temptation to complacency about doctrine and true fellowship is one that is ever-present. Most in the American church have given up on Jesus’ teaching in this text. Ecumenism, the belief that that all churches and pastors basically teach the same thing, rules the hearts and minds of most today. Doctrinal differences are kept quiet, ignored, and suppressed in the name of maintaining a false sense of unity and a warm feeling of chumminess. But Jesus’ word cuts through all that. There are false prophets. Not only are there false prophets, but these prophets excel in the art of concealing themselves under the cloak of piety and the hood of humility. This is what Jesus means when He says, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. The look innocent enough. They may wear a white collar, a polo collar, or a clerical collar. They may possess all the trappings of the church. But if we look at the external trappings and attire then we’ll surely miss the false prophets. The wear a sheepskin. They look like lambs, dwelling in the green pastures of Christ’s sheepfold. But appearances can be deceiving. Inwardly they are ravenous wolves. Sheep are innocent enough. Wolves, on the other hand, are quite diabolical. Wolves eat sheep, tearing flesh from bone to satisfy their hunger. So it is with false prophets who, by sowing dissension in doctrine and trade the teaching of Christ for the opinions of man, tear apart souls that belong to the Good Shepherd. Jesus’ first point in today’s text is that false prophets cannot be identified by their looks, their behavior, or anything external about them. They are masters of disguise as St. Paul tells the Corinthian congregation in 2 Corinthians 11:13-14. He says they are deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. You can’t spot them with your eyes.

2)         So how do we identify such a terrible threat to the Christian faith and thus our own faith? Jesus goes on, You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. First He compares them to ravenous wolves dressed as sheep. Now they are trees which bear rotten, putrid fruit. How do you tell a diseased tree from a healthy tree? Sometimes you can see it with the eye if the case is advanced. But most often the way to tell what tree is bad is by examining its fruit. When we bought our house years ago there was a large persimmon tree in the backyard and it bore beautiful looking persimmons. I couldn’t wait to make persimmon cookies, persimmon preserves, and persimmon wine. But the tree was diseased. It was a bad tree. I didn’t know it until I tried the fruit. No cookies, preserves, or wine in the Sullivan house. That tree was repurposed. It will keep our home warm this winter. Bad trees are known by their fruit. So it is with preachers, churches, and church bodies. But we must be careful here about how we define the fruit of a prophet. What does a prophet and preacher produce? He produces prophecy, that is, preaching. Preachers, churches, and anything claiming to represent Christ must be tested not by anything except its teaching. And that means, does their teaching conform to the Scriptures in every way? In sermons, in teaching, in devotions, papers, newsletters, and the like. Again, something like that sounds absurd to some and impossible to others. But it possible that pastors teach the whole counsel of God purely. It is possible that pastors and churches can confess the truth clearly and purely. We have witnessed this in our diocese by the grace of God. The fruit of a prophet is His teaching. Is it Christ’s teaching? If so, hear that one. If not, into the fire he will go, for that is all that bad trees are good for.

3)         Some will interject that the fruit of a prophet should be their behavior, that their good works should be the benchmark by which we judge preachers. And to some extent that is true in a secondary sense. The behavior, especially public behavior, of preachers is important. A pastor who teaches the Gospel purely and applies the Law to others rightly and appropriately degrades his teaching and office if he lives in unrepentant sin or sin that is manifest to the community. We are not saying that behavior is not one of the prophet’s fruits. We are saying that it is not the sole fruit of the prophet. Otherwise, men who are morally superior to others would be true prophets regardless of what they taught about the Gospel, the Sacraments, and the Christian life. We must maintain that the chief fruit a prophet bears is his teaching, for all men sin, and all men sin grievously at times if not aided by the grace of God.

4)         So far Christ has taught us that false prophets conceal their true identity and that the only way to truly spot them is in their preaching, whether or not it is in conformity with the Scriptures. Jesus finishes his dire warning for the church with these words: Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' The third trait of a false prophet is perhaps the saddest. Many, if not all false teachers, have no idea of what they truly are. There are those that say, “Lord, Lord!” But the external prayer of the lips doesn’t matter if the heart is truly worshiping self, the offering plate, or the cult of leadership. The will of the Father is to believe in the one whom He has sent and place your trust solely in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But many preaches never speak of the justification of the sinner, preferring instead to focus exclusively on the Christian life of good works, so that no one ever hears about true faith. Many preachers want to tell the world how Jesus can alleviate suffering when Scripture says that faith in Christ will bring suffering, and that we are supposed to suffer with him so that we may be glorified with Him on the Last Day. Many teach a gospel which is no gospel, saying that Jesus forgives everyone’s sins whether they repent or not, while others teach the soft universalism of objective justification, that we are saved apart from faith. All of this is taught in Jesus’ name, that is, as His teaching, when in fact it is not.

5)         Others will on that Day ask Christ, “Didn’t we preach in your name? Didn’t we drive out demons by your name? Didn’t we do miracles and great things in your name?” and Jesus’ answer is simple, “You did none of those things in my name.” Jesus’ name is more than five letters. It is His revelation, His teaching, everything that He teaches and gives to His disciples. So many preachers today willfully neglect the ‘all things’ that Christ commanded be taught in His great commission, focusing upon the things of this life instead. Baptism is made into a work of man rather than a gift of God by which He bestows still more gives. The true body and blood of Christ are ripped from His own Supper, contrary to His Word, and sacrificed on the altar of human reason because we know better than to take our Lord’s word in the plain sense. Faith, which is a gift of God given by the Holy Ghost, is disfigured and reformed to be a work of man so that man can make a decision for Jesus, thus having a part in his own salvation. All of these, and so many more false teachings, have infected the churches, not to mention the immorality masquerading as social issues. Even churches with ‘bible’ in their name are not exempt from most of these teachings. Those who think they are teaching Jesus’ doctrine but are really teaching the doctrines of men, they are told to depart from Christ. He calls them workers of lawlessness, which is sin.

6)         This is why Christ gives us such a stern warning again. False teaching is lawlessness. St. John writes in His first epistle that sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4) St. Paul calls false teaching a leaven which, if left unchecked, will leaven the whole lump. (Galatians 5:9) Christ gives us His teaching, His doctrine, so that God the Holy Spirit can be active through that Word to create faith in our hearts and sustain that faith in our hearts. This is one of the ways the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep, by leading them to the green pastures of His promises and the still waters of Holy Baptism with all its sure and certain promises. He alone possess the word of eternal life. His Word alone, purely taught and believed, is a lamb unto our feet and a light unto our path. It is in His Word, given to the apostles, that we hear over and over the sweet Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, all sinners, no matter how deep, how dark, how decrepit and devoid of love, He has carried all our sins and borne every sorrow to the cross. It is only in His doctrine, which is simply another word for teaching, that Jesus shows us His great love for sinners and His desire that we repent of our sins daily and every single day trust that the Gospel of Christ is good for us. He doesn’t want us to trust in the power of prayer. He wants us to pray to our Father in heaven firmly trusting the promises of the one who hears prayer. He doesn’t want us to believe in ourselves more, or try to work our way out of sin ourselves before we come to him. He wants us to believe in Christ’s atoning death, and by that faith, have all that He acquired at the cross for us.

7)         False prophets teach none of this, or some of it but mixed with human reason and opinion. Beware all such men. Judge them by their fruits, their teaching, and whether or not they teach Christ crucified for sinners as THE Gospel. Do not let them lead you away from your Good Shepherd, but rather, as His sheep, hear only His voice through spoken in His Word, on the page and in the pulpit, and His visible words of the Sacraments. For it is in these places and these places only that He gives you forgiveness of all your sins, and where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. Be vigilant, for your Lord has told you this so that you may not fall away in these dark days. Amen.

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