Posts Tagged ‘false prophets’

Testing Fruit. 8th Sunday after Trinity, 2017. Matthew 7:15-23 (Romans 8:12-17)

wormy fruitEighth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 6, 2017

“Testing Fruit”

Iesu iuva


A guy was sitting on the couch watching television.  His wife came in and said, “I’m going to make a fruit salad.  Do you want some?”  The husband looked up at her and said, “Sure!  Thanks.”  So she went back into the kitchen.


A little while later she returned with two bowls.  She handed one to him and then sat down with her bowl, eating.  The man’s eyes were glued to the tv.  He reached into the bowl and put pieces of fruit into his mouth without looking down at the bowl.  After a couple of bites he gagged and spit out the fruit onto the carpet.  Looking down into the bowl, he saw something that did look like a salad made out of fruit.  There were pieces of orange, lemon, and lime.  There were apples, strawberries and pears.  There were crabapples from the tree in the yard and some berries that looked like they belonged on a shrub or a hedge.  It even looked like his wife had cut a monkey brain fruit into pieces and thrown that in.  Then there were mushy brown bananas, half dried grapes with bugs on them, wrinkled, moldy blueberries, pieces of melon that let off a strange odor.


The husband looked at his wife.  She had the spoon halfway to her mouth and had stopped it there when her husband spat out the bite of fruit salad.  He said to her, “What is this?  Why did you put crabapples and moldy fruit in this salad?”


His wife said, “I couldn’t find enough normal fruit to put in there.  Then I figured, it’s close enough.  Fruit is fruit, right?”


Have you ever met a person like that, who figures all fruit is basically the same and you can just eat it all without worrying about it since it’s all going to the same place, whether it’s sweet, sour, or rotten?


Probably not.  Getting a fruit salad like that would be a sign you were dealing with a crazy person.


When I was a little kid and had to go grocery shopping with my mom, I remember her showing me how when she bought eggs she opened the carton up and examined each egg to make sure she didn’t accidentally get a bad egg or one with a crack in it.


We take such care to make sure that the food we put on our tables is wholesome!  Animals do this too.  When your nose smells rotten meat or vegetables, your body reflexively seizes up, pulls away; your face tightens.  We are wired biologically to run away from bad food; our nervous system knows before our brains do that bad meat, bad eggs, bad fruit have the power to kill us.


I think it was this week that I was walking into a nursing home to give someone the Lord’s body and blood, and I had a conversation that reminded me of this. I think it was this week, but it could have been almost any week, because this kind of thing happens to me so often.  A bunch of folks were sitting in wheelchairs outside by the door.  A lady said, “Hi, father!”  I said, “Hi!”  She said, “I noticed the Roman collar,” pointing to my neck.  I said, “I always thought it was an Anglican collar.”  She said, “You’re a Catholic priest, right?”  “No, a Lutheran pastor.”


“Oh,” she said.  “That’s really close.”


Someone says this to me almost every week, if not every day.  People from other churches say it; people from St. Peter say it.  As if the reasons the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church or the other protestant churches are minor and obsolete.  I often just smile in response.  If I start to disagree, people quickly get a faraway look in their eyes that I know very well—the look that is probably saying, “It’s close enough.  After all, fruit is fruit.”


The Lord and teacher of Christians is not silent about this, though.  Don’t worry too much about false prophets; you can’t tell them by their fruit, because it’s all basically the same.  You might think that’s what Jesus taught from the way those who claim His name talk and behave today.  But actually the shepherd’s voice calls to His sheep: Beware of false prophets.  They are coming to you dressed in sheep’s clothing, when inside they are savage wolves.  You will know them by their fruit.


If you are like me, you might not see at first how this applies to most of the preachers you see, since most of them don’t claim to be prophets.  When we hear “prophet,” we think of a man who can see the future, who can probably work miracles, who knows things hidden from normal people.  A biblical prophet is different from a pastor in that God speaks and reveals things to him directly.  He doesn’t only learn his message from studying the Scriptures and having it passed on to him by others, like pastors today.  Often God will reveal to him something that is going to happen in the future.  But prophets and pastors have the same calling in the sense that they are called not to proclaim their own thoughts and dreams but only the Word of the Lord, so that they are like mouthpieces of God, if they are faithful.  And pastors, like prophets, also proclaim things that are hidden, that people cannot discover unless it is revealed by God.


When we learn the basic parts of the Christian faith and come to the second article of the Creed, one of the things we learn about Jesus is that He is called “Christ” because He was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit as our priest, as our king, and as our prophet.  Jesus is the great prophet who proclaimed and revealed in His own life what people could not discover on their own.  He revealed that God is triune—one God, yet three distinct persons. He proclaimed the true way to salvation—not a set of practices or a form of meditation that promised to unite you with God, like the Buddhists—He taught that human beings are so corrupted by sin that there is nothing good left in us.  We have no desire to come to God or know Him, and no ability to do so, and no righteousness with which to stand in His holy presence and plead our case.  And Jesus, the true prophet, revealed how we are saved, which human beings could not know unless He revealed it.  He taught that we are saved by God’s grace alone, who provides the righteousness that covers our sin.  And He revealed that righteousness in Himself—in the way He lived, with perfect love toward God and our neighbor, and in the way He died as a curse for our sins, covering our guilt and removing from us God’s just condemnation.


Jesus is the true prophet; all other true prophets are reflections of Him.


And the wonderful teaching tucked away in the questions and answers our synod adds to the Small Catechism of Luther is that Jesus continues to be our prophet.  He continues to proclaim the Word of God to us today from heaven, so that we might know the truth, and the truth might make us free.  You and I have never seen Jesus’ face, but you have heard His voice, because Jesus continues His prophetic office from heaven by sending ministers who proclaim not their own words, but His.  When a minister absolves you of your sins, it is not him loosing you from them—it is Jesus your prophet; and when a minister faithfully proclaims the Word of Jesus recorded in Scripture, it is not him you hear, but the same Jesus who taught in the synagogues, the temple, in the wilderness among great crowds.  When the pastor baptized you, Jesus called, “Come, follow me,” just as He said to Peter and Andrew as they mended their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.


Jesus speaks through the ones He sends who are faithful to His call, whether they are apostles, prophets, evangelists or simply pastors, teachers.  Apostles were called directly by Jesus, and prophets receive a direct revelation from God.  Pastors are called to their ministry indirectly; God calls them through people.  Yet all are called by God.


But there are preachers and prophets whom Jesus calls false.  They may be called by God, or they may pretend to be, claiming a vision and deceiving people.  Either way false prophets and false teachers come with a word that is not God’s.  And Jesus warns to beware of them, be on guard against them, because they are like greedy wolves, although they look like they are sheep of Christ’s flock.


This year as we commemorate the 500th year of the Reformation, we cannot avoid the painful reality of what the Reformation represents.  The Roman Church at that time regarded Luther as a false prophet who led entire nations away from the true Church, and away from Christ and the possibility of salvation.  On the other hand, we regard Luther as the reformer of the Christian Church, raised up by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are justified and saved not by works, but solely by God’s grace, solely through faith in Christ, who alone atoned for our sins.  But if we are right, it means that for centuries the true Gospel of Jesus was buried under false teaching.  It might have been taught here and there by laypeople or priests who told troubled dying people to look to Christ crucified and trust Him alone for salvation.  But the official teaching that the Church proclaimed, taught the priests, and that the priests taught the people, was that Jesus did not do enough to save us.  We must contribute our obedience and good deeds if we want to please God.  If what we believe is true, then for hundreds of years even in the visible Church most people were damned and lost, because false prophets had suppressed the truth.


If that is true—and it is—we cannot afford to fall asleep, or let the clergy worry about doctrine.  We must watch out for false teaching and false prophets.  You must watch and be certain that what I or any other pastor preaches to you is not his word but God’s in every part.


You must examine the fruits of those who preach.


You can’t tell a wolf if it looks like a sheep until it eats you.  But you can tell what kind of a tree you have by the fruit it bears.  Nobody gets clusters of grapes out of a thicket of thorns and briars, Jesus says.


You can’t tell whether a preacher is faithful by his life, unless he is an obvious unrepentant sinner.  But if he is imperfect, that is no different than every Christian.  You have to examine his fruit.  The fruit of a preacher is his teaching.


I am always amazed at how some people can go into a grocery store and pick up a plum or a mango or an avocado and determine by touch and maybe by smell whether it is too ripe, too underrripe, or just right.  To me, you know a fruit is good when you bite into it.  The problem with this method is obvious.  And the same thing is true with testing the fruit of preachers.  You don’t want to eat the fruit of a false prophet—to hear it, take it into you, believe it, live according to it.  Sometimes people say that they listen to preachers who teach false doctrine, like just about every preacher on the radio and television, and discern the good from the bad.  It may be a useful way to practice discernment occasionally.  But would you eat an apple that is full of worms and try to eat around the worms?  Jesus doesn’t say, “Listen to every preacher and take the true and throw out the bad.”  He says a prophet or preacher is either false or true, good or bad.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Good fruit is not when a pastor preaches some of God’s Word purely with only a little error.  Teaching is either God’s Word or it isn’t.  If I tell you everything in the Bible is true except for the part where it says God created the world in 6 days, I am telling you the Bible is not true.  A false prophet bears bad fruit even when some of what he preaches is true and seemingly just a little is false, just like a beautiful, sweet apple with just a few little worms in it is no longer a good apple.


But just like you can’t tell a false prophet by how they seem or how they make you feel, you can’t tell their fruit by how they make you feel either.  In the grocery store, people test fruit with their nose or their fingertips, but a preacher’s fruit is tested by God’s Word.


This is why we learn the catechism, and why we need to keep it in front of us.  The catechism is a summary of the Bible.  But the catechism is not the Bible; its authority comes from being faithful to Scripture.  In order to be able to recognize the bad fruit of false prophets, we need to know the summary of the teaching of Scripture in the Catechism, but we also need to constantly hear and read the Scriptures.  A preacher is not only false when he teaches against the main doctrines of the Bible, but when he contradicts it at any point, because when a preacher does this he contradicts God.  He is no longer acting as God’s mouthpiece and saying the Words of God, but adding his own words.  Similarly, a preacher is not true and faithful if he holds back part of the teaching of God’s Word and never talks about certain doctrines.


Even though a true preacher must faithfully teach all of the doctrine in God’s Word just as God gives it—and that means you must know that doctrine and grow in the knowledge of the Scripture if you are to guard against false teachers—all good fruit, all faithful teaching shares certain things in common, and so does all bad fruit and false teaching.


To see this, consider with me please the preaching we have recorded in Scripture of the man Jesus called the greatest of all the prophets who came before Him.  That is John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.  I refer to him because a few chapters before the Gospel reading in the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we hear John use the exact same words Jesus uses in this reading when He says: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (v. 19)


In chapter 3, Matthew records that John appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching.  His message was, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.


Matthew tells us that John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (3:4)  John does not have the pleasing appearance many people probably expect from a preacher.  His way of life is a little frightening, off-putting.  If a man wearing a camel hair garment in the desert, eating only grasshoppers and wild honey came and preached to you, besides thinking that he was crazy, you probably would also be afraid that he might call you to live a similar kind of life, where you have to give up all kinds of comforts.


Nevertheless, we are told Jerusalem and all Judea…were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.


Then we hear that the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were the normal religious leaders in Israel that people normally listened to, also came out to John’s Baptism.  John does not smile and feel flattered about this, or try to thank them for coming, or even welcome them.  He says You generation of vipers?  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (3:7-10)


Finally, John’s sermon ends with another proclamation different than his strict call to repentance that we have heard up until now.  He says, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  (3:11)


John is a true prophet.  He bears good fruit, even though one can hardly imagine him smiling a lot, even though his message is strict, even harsh.  He is not polite and nice like we expect preachers to be, welcoming and sweet.  He is strict in his preaching and strict with himself in his mode of life.  He doesn’t fit in in society.  These are not necessarily qualities a true preacher must have—but they show that common expectations of preachers among us are not proofs that a prophet is true or false.  If John is any indication, a preacher can be what we would call “mean”, “harsh”, and yet be a true and faithful prophet.


But John’s fruit is his teaching.  What do we hear him teach?  What is the pattern of his preaching?


First, he calls people to repentance, to a change of mind.  He preaches that people are by nature children of the devil, even the people that seem most religious and good.  Faithful preaching does not build up people’s trust and confidence in their own goodness; it doesn’t make them feel good about themselves and tell them that the way to have a blessed life is to follow a few rules from the Bible.  Instead, faithful preaching confronts us with God’s judgment that is upon us and destroys our sense of ease and comfort with the way we are.  It tells us, Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Faithful preaching calls us to repentance, which means not merely that we recognize that nobody is perfect; it means that we hear from faithful preaching that we must become good in God’s sight, that we must do not only outward good things, but that these must come from a clean heart that loves God in reality and truth.  Faithful preaching makes it clear that this repentance, this fear of God’s wrath, this wholehearted turning away from our love and trust in ourselves, is not just a matter of the mind and understanding.  Faithful preaching tells us our whole selves must change from pride to fear of God, from self-will to fear of God, from self-love to love of God and our neighbors, and this cannot just be a matter of talk, but must show itself in our lives.


But John also preaches something else as well.  He baptizes those who are trembling over their sins with the promise that they are cleansed and forgiven.  And he proclaims one coming after him who “is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  He points them to the one whose power and glory will come to help them.  He preaches Jesus, who gives us not only outward cleansing, but the Holy Spirit, who imparts true righteousness, holiness, who renews us, and as Paul says, does not make us slaves of fear but makes us confident that we are children and heirs of God.


False prophets, on the other hand, teach people, one way or the other, that there is good in them, and that they must contribute something besides Jesus to their salvation.  This is why on that day, the day of judgment, many will say to Jesus, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons, and do many miracles?  And Jesus says, I will say to them, I never knew you.  Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!  False prophets on the day of judgment will try to tell Jesus how much they have done for him, because they do not know him, nor He them.  We know Jesus when we know ourselves, when we see that his suffering and agony was the price to redeem us from sin; and then we know Jesus, not as the one who we do things for, but as the one who has done everything for us.


Our time is full of doctrinal indifferentism.  That means people think it doesn’t matter much what doctrine you hold.


But our Lord is not indifferent.  He is full of zeal for our salvation.  In reality and truth He bled and died for our sins.  In reality and truth He feeds us with His own body and blood.  He does not trade in lies or appearances, but realities and truths.  He feeds you the body and blood that cancels your sins and in reality and truth pours out His Spirit on you, the Spirit who cries out, “Abba, Father” not out of sentiment, but because He has made it so.   And because He is not indifferent to our well-being He tells us the truth and tells us to avoid the lies false prophets tell in His name.  He tells us the truth of our helplessness in sin, and He tells us the wonderful truth, sweet and blessed, that we are sons and heirs of God through His pain and agony alone.


Just as Jesus wants you to be certain of your salvation, He also wills that you be certain that you have the truth of His Word, and that the one who preaches to you speaks not the words of men but only the words of Jesus.  He doesn’t want you to eat rotten fruit, pick it from a rotten tree, or treat the savage wolves who come from Satan to destroy you as though they’re no different from His faithful servants.  May God work in us this certainty during this year of the reformation, and give us zeal to know the truth that makes us confident that we are not lawless but righteous and heirs of His kingdom.



The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Soli Deo Gloria


Preachers’ Fruit. Trinity 8, 2015

8th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

July 26, 2015

Preachers’ Fruit

Iesu Iuva

Whose word belongs in the Church?

Who do you come to Church to hear?

Jesus put this question to the crowds about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

The answer was that they had not gone out to see a man in soft clothing, nor a reed blown about by the wind, but a prophet.

That is what we go to church to hear. Not the voice of a therapist sitting in an office in soft clothes, nor the voice of a talk-show host, espousing easy worldly wisdom that changes with the seasons. We go to Church to hear God speak. God’s Word is the only Word that belongs in the Church. And the only kind of prophets that there should be in the Church are true prophets, men who faithfully deliver the Word of God.

But Jesus warns His Christians. He says the days are coming when you will go to Church to hear God speak and to escape the lies in the world, and you will not get what you are looking for. You will get a false prophet instead of a true prophet. And the false prophet will bring the lies of the world and the devil into the Church and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

In the Epistle reading historically appointed for this Sunday, from Acts chapter 20, Paul warns the pastors of Ephesus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)

Why for three whole years did Paul exhort the Ephesians with tears stinging his eyes, choking his throat? Because he knew the day was going to come when he would no longer be among them. Then the false prophets would come. They would attack the flock from within, seeking to deceive, scatter, and destroy the Church of God. So Paul wept and pleaded with the Ephesians to be on guard against false prophets.

I want to plead with you today like Paul pleaded, but I have a hard heart and don’t know how to cry. But if I did I would cry today as I plead with you that you be on guard against false prophets and false teaching. There are many things we worry about in the Church. There is never any lack of things to irritate us with one another and cause us to quarrel. But there really is one truly needful thing: that we receive the pure Word of God and remain in it. If you have God’s pure Word you have everlasting life and you are defended against everything the devil would like to do to you. Our chief concern should be not just to have the Word enter our ears, but to have it so rooted in our hearts that it can’t be taken away by false teachers, or tribulation, or the terrors of death. This happens not by any human schemes. It happens by studying the Word, giving attention to it, learning it, and testing the preaching and teaching of God’s Word against the Scriptures.

It is vitally important that we learn to recognize false prophets and have nothing to do with them; that we not listen to their lies nor support them in their preaching false doctrine. That should be what we guard against.

Jesus gives us the key to recognizing false prophets in this Gospel reading.

False prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing. That means you can’t tell by their actions that they are not Christians. But they are also like trees. They always expose themselves for what they are by the fruit that they bear. Maybe not right away does the fruit appear for what it is. But with a tree eventually you always come to know what you’re dealing with because finally its fruit has to appear. Eventually the crabapple tree will bear crabapples, not cherries. Plum trees bear plums. And inevitably preachers will bear their fruit too.

What is within them will come out. And the fruit is chiefly their doctrine or teaching.

Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew a faithful prophet named John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing by the Jordan River. The evangelist tells us that “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism.” But they were hypocrites. They weren’t there as lost sinners looking for grace. So John cried out to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance! …Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10)

Now the Pharisees and Sadducees probably didn’t expect to hear such a sermon. They were, after all, religious leaders. But they came to John, and John was a true prophet. That meant that they were going to hear from him not worldly wisdom acceptable to men, but the word of the living God. And the word of God to the Pharisees and Sadducees was the same as to the tax collectors and harlots, for God is no respecter of persons. God said they must repent not only for show but in reality, that they must become poor wretched sinners. Although they may have been religious people in the sight of men they were wicked in the sight of God.

A true prophet preaches repentance first. This is his first fruit. Repentance, true repentance, is not just giving up certain sins. It is becoming an entirely new creature that is dead to sin, alive to God, and fruitful in good works. The preaching of repentance is first of all the preaching of the law of God found in the ten commandments. It is a terrifying and unpleasant sermon because it sentences our sinful flesh with all its works and ways to death. It tells us we can’t go on in our natural state, that we are guilty not only because of our sins that are visible to others, but because of the secret sins that arise secretly in our hearts. Lust, greed, anger, pride. The preaching of repentance commands us to become new creatures in God’s sight, that inwardly we are filled with faith and love that move us to good works. But that is not something we are able to do. It’s like asking a crabapple tree to become a plum tree.

But false prophets don’t preach repentance like this. They tell their hearers that repentance is something they can do on their own. They flatter their hearers, even though they may require a lot of works. False prophets tell people that they are free and that there is some good left in them that is able to choose what is right and earn God’s acceptance. Some churches do this in an obvious way, like the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches its members that they earn God’s favor by cooperating with Him and doing good works. Other false prophets are more subtle in the way they undermine repentance, like those churches that teach that you are born again and saved when you make a free decision of your will to accept Jesus as your Savior. False prophets don’t tell you that you are dead in your sins and can’t get yourself out. And in the rare cases where they do say this, they don’t show you where to go to have your sins removed and a new heart given to you.

The second fruit of a faithful preacher, which is closely connected to the first fruit, is that a faithful preacher preaches Christ. A faithful preacher proclaims that you must become a different kind of tree that produces good fruit, but you are unable to do this. Then He directs your faith to Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him becomes a good, fruit-bearing tree. He is counted righteous by God. His sins are forgiven, because Jesus made satisfaction for them with His blood.

Also the person who believes in Jesus begins to bear good fruit because Jesus gives him the Holy Spirit. John preached this to his hearers who were stricken and humbled by the call to repentance—He preached Jesus to them, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us that we believe in Jesus and are counted righteous for His sake. He also works in us that we begin to trust in God from our hearts, that we begin to love Him because He has loved us. He works in us that we begin to gladly do God’s will because we are thankful that He has redeemed us. We begin to bring forth good fruit that pleases God.

This is the chief mark of a faithful prophet. He preaches that you can’t get yourself out of your sins, but that Jesus already has, through His death and resurrection. He preaches the good news of Jesus to those stripped of all hope by the law of God. He preaches the sweet news that Jesus, incarnate God, was cut down and thrown into the fire of God’s wrath for us on the cross, and that we are counted and become fruitful trees through believing that we are justified in Him.

The world does not accept or tolerate this preaching any more than the call to repentance. It is nonsense and unacceptable to the world that a sinner can be righteous before God by the obedience of someone else in his place. But to Christians this fruit of true prophets is sweeter than any fruit the world can offer. This preaching of Christ crucified is the fruit of the tree of life.

But false prophets don’t bear this life-giving fruit. They bring forth the wormy, rotten fruit of the flesh and its righteousness. So they preach that Christ died and rose again, and call Him Savior. But they don’t preach that He is Christ for us, on whom a poor sinner may rely alone without any works and be assured of salvation. And if they do preach that, they undermine that good news by other false doctrines that teach that we find Christ and salvation not in the Word and Sacraments but in our emotions, decisions, and experiences. In this way they undermine a repentant sinner’s confidence that his sins are forgiven. False prophets don’t preach Christ as a true Savior for those who look inside themselves and find nothing good, only unbelief and evil desires contrary to God’s law.

But that is who Jesus is. He is a true Savior for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. He has redeemed us from sin and justified us even while we were dead in sins. He is our righteousness, so that whoever only believes in Him is righteous, but whoever trusts in another righteousness is condemned. Everyone who believes on Him has done the will of the Father, because in the good news about Jesus the righteousness God accepts is revealed.

But false prophets demand something other than faith in Christ. They make our salvation depend not only on faith in Jesus but the fruits that come from faith, such as an experience of salvation, or a decision to follow Jesus, or other works. They confuse justification and sanctification. Our righteousness before God is not our experience of salvation or our decision to follow Jesus. Our righteousness before God is the obedience of Jesus unto death on the cross, received by faith alone. False prophets mix our works, what happens within us, with the work of Jesus that was finished on the cross.

So you see that true prophets and false prophets always give themselves away by their fruit. Like trees, they bring out what is in them. In faithful prophets’ hearts Christ alone reigns as Savior from the sin that lives in their flesh. So that is what faithful preachers proclaim. In false prophets’ hearts is faith in the corrupt righteousness of the flesh. So that is the fruit that their mouths eventually bear. They end up preaching not Christ but human works. This kind of preaching is acceptable to human reason and the sinful flesh, and the flesh loves it. But Jesus says to beware of those who preach it.

True prophets, on the other hand, preach what is unacceptable to reason and the flesh. They preach that we are by nature evil, but that Christ has justified us by His suffering and death. Because what true prophets preach is unacceptable to the flesh, it’s often the case that false prophets have many hearers and true prophets few.

So what should you do? Discern between false prophets and faithful ones. Judge their fruits. False prophets make themselves known by denying Christ in their teaching. They contradict what Jesus has said and they don’t put Him forward as our righteousness before God. When you encounter false prophets, you should reject them. Don’t participate in their falsification of God’s Word by listening to them, giving money to them, attending their churches. Rather you should flee from them as a lamb runs from a wolf.

But what happens when you encounter a faithful preacher? Then you should cling to him as one sent to you by God. You should bear with his faults and support his ministry with your prayers and offerings, because Jesus says of faithful preachers, “The one who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16) You should give obedience to whatever faithful preachers preach in accordance with God’s Word, because you are not hearing a mere man, but you are hearing God speak when a faithful prophet speaks.

But you must always test the fruit of your preachers against the Scripture and the catechism as a summary of Scripture. And then when they preach what is true it will be a joy both to you and to them. You will rejoice to find that your preacher is really speaking the words of the living God, the words that give eternal life. And the preacher will rejoice that you are learning to cling not to the testimony of men but to God’s testimony. This means you are becoming mature in Christ, and that is what all faithful pastors wish for their hearers. They wish them to mature to the full stature of Christ so that they bear much fruit unto eternal life.


Soli Deo Gloria

Lawlessness and its Forgiveness. Trinity 8, Aug. 10, 2014

pope wolf eating lamb8th Sunday after Trinity [Baptism of Gracelyn Weisz]

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 10, 2014

“Lawlessness and its Forgiveness”


Jesus, help!


In all three of the readings today God warns us of the danger of false preachers. He shows us how we can recognize them and not be destroyed by them. And He shows us how we may recognize faithful preachers, and shows us the benefits of hearing faithful preaching.


False preachers preach and work lawlessness; faithful preachers preach and work the forgiveness of lawlessness.


As a preacher, I tremble when I hear God’s anger towards false preachers. In Jeremiah, the Lord says: How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal (Jeremiah 23:27)? Can you imagine being guilty of trying to take God’s people away from Him? That’s what false prophets do. And God says: Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. (Jeremiah 23:19) It would be far better to never have been born than to be a false prophet or preacher.


But false teachers are not just a danger to themselves. They work injury and destruction to their hearers. That’s why Jesus warns you so urgently: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15) Beware of them because they are wolves and you are a sheep of Christ. What do wolves do to sheep? Briefly, they rip them apart and eat them. False prophets snatch believers, deceive them, and lead them to hell.


And notice, Jesus does not say that false teachers are a rare occurrence. Beware of false prophets, who come to you… Not, “Might come to you,” they come to you. They certainly come. And when they come, they don’t look like the devil. They look like Christians, like sheep.


That is to say, they look sincere, as though they really care about people’s souls. And lots of times false prophets are sincere. They are sincerely deceived.


But being deceived doesn’t excuse them. If a contractor does shoddy work building a bridge on purpose, and the bridge collapses, he is responsible for the deaths and injuries he causes. But if he does shoddy work on accident, he isn’t excused. People are still dead and injured. How much more is this the case in spiritual things, when the consequences of mistakes are eternal?


If a pastor accidentally perverts God’s Word and leads your soul to eternal death, what then? Will you say, “Well, most of the things he preached were true. He tried his best?” I don’t think you will say that.

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8th Sunday after Trinity: The Wolves and Your David

July 29, 2012 7 comments

8th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

July 29, 2012

“Recognizing the Wolves and Your David”


Beloved flock of Jesus:


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


I’ve never seen a wolf catch a sheep.  I’ve never seen a sheep slaughtered either.  But I killed a bluegill a couple of weeks ago.  And even though it was tasty, I felt a little sorry for it.  See, that fish really wanted to live.  It put all its strength into trying to flop out of my hand and get back into the water, even though it couldn’t breathe.  But it was at my mercy.  And I didn’t give it mercy.  I cut it apart and cooked and ate it.

Well, that’s the way the world is, and meat is tasty.  No sense feeling bad about it, especially when God gave human beings permission to kill and eat animals after the flood, in Gen. 9. 

But it is useful today for us to try to imagine what it would be like to be the fish dragged out of the water by a hook in its mouth, or to be a lamb in the jaws of a wolf, or in the hands of a slaughterer.

Because Jesus tells you today: You are the sheep.  You are the prey.  The wolves that come to devour you won’t stop to think about your pain because they are starving.

If you are really a sheep, that’s bad news. It’s not like you can fight the wolves.  You can’t outrun them.  You definitely can’t outsmart them.  You’re like the fish hanging on the end of my fishing line.  All your flopping around will accomplish nothing.

There’s only one hope for sheep who are marked out for slaughter by wolves.  Their only hope is that they have a shepherd who will protect them, who says to the wolf—“These sheep are mine, so you won’t be eating them.”

If they have that kind of a shepherd, then the sheep can run to his voice.  Then they will be safe.

Thanks be to God!  You do have that kind of a shepherd in Your Lord Jesus Christ!

In the Bible, when David was about to plant a rock from a sling into the skull of the giant Goliath, he tells a story about his days as a shepherd.  When he is asked how he thinks he will defeat this warrior when he is just a kid, David says, “When I was alone in the hills with my father’s sheep, I fought a bear and a lion and killed them.  And this godless Philistine isn’t tougher than them.”

Where did David get the boldness to fight a giant, a bear, a lion?  He believed that almighty God would fight for him.  But what is more amazing is that he would be willing to take that risk for sheep.  That was David’s preparation for becoming the King of Israel.  For Him to shepherd God’s people would be just like that—risking his life to save a flock of  sheep that didn’t know its right hand from its left. 

You have a greater and more perfect David.  Your shepherd is the Son of David, the King of the Jews, Jesus Christ.  He fights heroic battles, trusting in the Lord, risking His life to save—His father’s sheep. 

It’s Jesus, the shepherd, who warns His sheep today: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Jesus’ warnings to the sheep are not just talk.  This is the voice of Your God, but also of the David who loves you and defends you.  He says: Beware! 

He doesn’t say, “There are fierce wolves coming, but forget about it.  Take a nap.  I’ll handle everything.”  He says “Beware!” 

These wolves don’t come looking like wolves.  If they did, you’d run! 

Instead they come looking like sheep, that is to say, like Christians…They come saying, “Lord, Lord!”  Doing miracles, maybe!  Casting out demons, maybe!  Doing great works in Christ’s name. 

They don’t come looking like Satanists, but like Christian teachers or pastors.  They come with smooth words to Christians who have been carrying the cross and they preach a Christianity that looks like it will be easier than the way of Jesus.  And they say, “See, this is actually what the Lord taught.  What you believed before is not God’s Word.  Or at least it isn’t the whole truth.  You were missing something.”

Now how can you defend yourself against wolves that dress themselves like sheep—against false prophets who dress themselves up in the Name of Jesus and claim His Word?  How can you recognize them and flee?

Here is the answer: Jesus’ Word unmasks the false prophets and calls You to Jesus and to safety.

[1. Does Jesus really want false prophets exposed and recognized?

2.  How false prophets are recognized.

3.  Jesus’ word calls you to Himself, His true flock, and to safety.]


  1. 1.         Does Jesus really want false prophets exposed and recognized?

Yes.  He says so clearly in this verse.


He does not want us to befriend false teachers and false teaching, much less support them.

False teaching comes from the devil.  False teachers do the work of the devil.


The devil destroys with false teaching.  He tempts us away from Christ to put our trust in something else. 

Romans 16:17 : Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.

By “the doctrine you have been taught” Paul means the pure doctrine that was taught by the apostles, not that you should necessarily stay with the religion you grew up with.

 False teachers are not those who make small mistakes, but they profane the name of God.  So to support or give aid or play down the differences between true doctrine and false is to participate in profaning God’s name.

 Catechism: 2nd commandment, 1st petition of the Lord’s Prayer.


You tell me: is it a minor matter to preach and teach something different from God’s Word, as long as the teaching is a minor thing?


Is there anything that God says that is “minor”?  “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same…”  Matt 5…not one jot or tittle can pass from the law until all is fulfilled.


Christians—pastors and the royal priesthood—are to test teachers and teachings and avoid false teachers.

 Refusing to do this profanes Christ’s name and endangers the church.


When congregations refuse to distinguish between true and false doctrine, true and false teachers, true and false fellowships, they do not confess Jesus. 


When pastors fail to preach against false doctrine and even name false teachers, they dishonor Jesus, profane His name, and do not guard the sheep

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  Acts 20.27-28

We profane God’s name whenever we are embarrassed of His Word, or refuse to distinguish between His word and the devil’s word, when we do not confess Him before the world.

  1. 2.        How to recognize false prophets.

 The false prophets who would destroy your soul are known by their fruits. 


But Jesus doesn’t say—does the fruit look good?  He says: Look at the tree!


Good trees bear good fruit, bad trees bad.  Bad trees don’t ever bear good fruit, and good trees don’t ever bear bad.



What is a good tree?

Teachers are likened to trees. 


With fruit trees, we have some experience, so we know—apple trees have good fruit.  Crabapple trees—not good fruit. 


With teaching, it’s not exactly like that.  It can’t be discerned with the senses or the emotions or the brain.


Example of Eve—the fruit looked good, desirable for wisdom.


That is what Satan does—turns eyes from the Word to our own experience, feeling, thought.


We must shut our eyes and listen to the Word only.

You will know a tree by its fruit because every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire.

Yet we don’t see false teachers thrown into the fire.

Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of his one and only Son. (John 3)


Whoever, whatever, does not confess Jesus only is condemned already.  You judge a bad tree in this way: this teacher does not hold to Christ alone.  He does not give praise to Jesus alone.


When John said “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” who can keep that word?  When you look at the list of the fruits of the Spirit, don’t you come up not doing too well?

Good trees are defined by the word of the Lord.

The word of justification.  You are just, not because you have kept the law, but because Christ has fulfilled the law for you; God credits this faith as righteousness.

In baptism.  You are washed and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus and named with the name of God.  The washing with water by the word was God’s promise that Christ’s death for sinners cleanses you.

God’s word prescribes the works.

False teachers create all kinds of works apart from the ten commandments to do.  They may say, “Faith in Jesus alone,” but really they mean something else. 


The good work of having the experience of choosing Jesus—if you can’t say you’ve had that experience, then you’re not saved.


But usually they don’t say “Faith in Jesus alone.”  They say, “Changed life.”


They reject Christ’s works—Baptism, the Word—in favor of their own.

The spirit of Antichrist.  Jesus warns of the wolves because the spirit of antichrist is at work in the church…the devil sends false preachers in order to turn the church into the mockery of the bride of Jesus.  Any teacher who denies the Gospel is influenced by the Spirit of Antichrist.  The Spirit of Antichrist finds its full embodiment in the papacy, which claims to be the authority over the whole church by God’s command, and thus “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming that he is God.”

Does not confess Jesus.


Joel Osteen.  (Is Osteen’s preaching really about Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins?  Is that even in his sermons most times?  Osteen’s doctrine is not about Christ.  It is about you and changing your thinking.  He does not confess Christ’s coming in the flesh—his gospel is about something other than Christ coming in the flesh.)


Papacy.  (Christ alone is not your righteousness; you are righteous before God by faith and your regenerated heart and good works.  And since Scripture is not clear, you must depend on the authority of the true church to defend you from wolves.  Thus the pope becomes your god; Christ’s word is determined by the authority of the church and the pope, instead of Christ’s word judging the fidelity of congregations and pastors.


3.Jesus Your David, reveals Himself to you and calls you to safety in His Word.


Your David who fights against the wolf—he doesn’t choose the easy path. He goes the way the Father wants him to go regardless of the consequences. 


You don’t get to go an easy path either.  You go in this way—faith in Jesus, love to your neighbor where God has called you to serve.

            It’s easier to escape into holy stuff that we make up.


            To follow Jesus is to lose everything.  You can’t escape that.


            Not, “Lord, lord,” and then you create your own destiny.  You receive it all.  Your sins are forgiven, not because you feel it, but because of the Word, baptism.

            You are a husband or wife, not because you feel like it, but because the Word says so. 

            It is pleasing to God because the word says so, because you are a good tree, not because you feel like it.

            You are pleasing to God not because you’ve accomplished your dreams, but because God says you are pleasing to Him in Christ.


But you’re safe: see how Jesus has gone before you and finished it.


And if you’re afraid and faltering, don’t think that you will make it because you follow him anything like perfectly; you’re saved because of Him.  You just do what he’s called you to do go where he’s called you to go; but when you fail you live by faith.  And when you don’t want to do it, you live by faith.

This is where Jesus is; here in the word and sacraments,


In your bodies,


With you in your daily life.


The wolves lead you away from Jesus to your own works, to your damnation.


Jesus leads you to death and resurrection.




The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Luther: How False Prophets Overthrow Faith in Christ

July 25, 2012 3 comments

You see, if we took up this warning and guided ourselves by the words of Christ, we could easily defend ourselves against all the false prophets and preachers.  They are breaking in all over the place.  This is due to the fact that we who hear the genuine Gospel do not take it seriously and are not concerned about really having it and keeping it.  We act so sleepy and slothful, as if we could never lose it.  As a consequence we are taken in by this lovely outward appearance and show before we have a chance to look around.  As soon as a different new teacher comes along and goes to work, the word “Beware!” is forgotten. Yet it is with this word that we should be armed, listening to each individual as though we did not hear him, looking and paying attention only to the doctrine.  Some frivolous and fickle spirits only look into the preachers’ mouths and chase after them, impelled by a curiosity that makes them think: “Oh, I have listened to this one already.  Now I have to listen to that one, too.  He is such a fine, learned, and saintly man.”  There the devil already has a foothold, and he has taken them in before they realize what is going on.  Now he drives and directs them at will from one schism to another.  Paul says of such people that they are like a reed (Matt. 11:7), “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).  If a different one arises today or tomorrow, they quickly rush over to listen to him.  The cause of this is the fact that in their heart they do not have a sure understanding of the Word of God and that they depreciate the Gospel.  They imagine that if they have heard it once or twice, they know it all and have it all.  They quickly become bored with it, so that as soon as someone else comes along bringing something new, they open up their eyes and ears wide.  The same thing happens to them that happened to Adam and Eve when they were seduced by the serpent, who made them open up their eyes to see the forbidden tree and who insinuated such beautiful thoughts as these, contrary to the Word of God (Gen. 3:1): “Why should we not eat from this tree, too?”  Thus their desires and curiosity were aroused, and they became bored with all the trees in all of Paradise, staring only at this one.

If we took the Gospel seriously and if, in our lives, we were concerned to keep this treasure pure and clean, we would not be deceived so easily.  I hope that no schismatic spirit could overturn me very easily, since I know that the Gospel is true and I would not want to lose it.  If someone comes along in his beautiful sheep’s clothing, I will not pay attention to his mask, as though I wanted to hear something different or new, but to whether or not he agrees with my Gospel.  If not, then, thank God, I am well grounded and certain enough to know that he is a false prophet and a ravenous wolf under his sheep’s clothing.

So the demonic spirits have a double advantage: the fact that we are such careless, smug, and frivolous people; and the fact that they can deck themselves out in the beautiful wool of a sheep.  By “sheep’s clothing” He does not mean wickedness and coarse sins, like those of heathen and non-Christians.  He means the excellent name and reputation of true Christians, who have Holy Baptism, the Sacrament, Christ, and everything that is Christ’s.  They have to bring all this along.  None of them dares to come along with the statement: ‘This is what I say.”  They come along instead with the statement:

A member of the Jim Roberts group cult, aka the Garbage Eaters. I had some contact with them when I was in Seattle. I should write about that.

“Dear friends, this is what Christ says.  There you have the Word of God and the Scriptures.  If you want to be saved, you must believe this.  Anyone who teaches otherwise, is deceiving you.”  They make use of the glorious name of Christ and God, and of awesome and grand words like “the glory of God”,

John Calvin, who loved to terrify people with “the glory of God”, although maybe not as much as his spiritual descendants.

“truth,” “eternal salvation,” and other words like these.  When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this.  For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.

Luther, The Sermon on the Mount, AE: 21, pp. 252-253

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