In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
There are some sermons that are quite easy to write – where the words just flow, and the text seems so open and clear. And then there are some sermons that are hard to write, where it is a struggle, and if you happened upon me while I was working on it, you would find me quite grumpy. And then, then today, this sermon is one I wish I didn’t have to write. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” I wish I didn’t have to preach a sermon on this topic – I wish as your pastor that I didn’t have to worry about false prophets, that I never had to contend with false teachers – I wish I could send you out those doors into the world without a thought about what vile, faith destroying junk you will hear out there, for I know that you all have enough on your plate. But my wishes, my desires do not create reality – and our old Satanic foe still, even now, means deadly woe. I’m sad to say it, but I guess even you yourselves have seen him at work – have seen people fall, seduced away by false preachers who leave them shattered and broken. So this text must be preached – beware of false prophets.
So, how do we know a false prophet? Would that it would be easy – that we could simply listen to see if the name of Jesus is mentioned – but our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Just because someone claims to be teaching or preaching about Christ doesn’t mean he is. There are false, false prophets out there, who blaspheme our Lord’s holy name and lead people astray. So, how are we to know? Hear what our Lord says. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? We will know them by their fruits – we will see, we will hear what they produce, and that is how we will know if they are false or not.
So what does this mean? Do we listen to the people who seem nice, do nice things? Do we listen to the preacher who has the biggest smile, who has the best handshake? No, for hear how our Lord describes what He will say to these accursed false prophets on the final day! “On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When our Lord talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, He isn’t just talking about things that look nice. Jesus isn’t talking about things that seem impressive to the eye. Look at the wonders we’ve done, we’ve even cast out demons in Your name – still a false prophet. How are we to know then, by what fruit will we tell a false teacher? How do we discern?
Did you hear the last phrase of our Lord? “you workers of lawlessness.” Lawlessness. Working against the Law. Lawlessness – those who are not justified. And now, dear friends, we see what it is that we need to be wary of. Now we can see and understand what it is we are to watch for. Simple works, they don’t cut it. Being nice doesn’t cut it. What makes a Christian a Christian is that as Christians we are no longer lawless –that we are Justified by Christ Jesus, that we have been declared righteous by God, and that we delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is the one who fulfilled the Law in our place. And so now dear friends, listen, and hear how you mark out false prophets, how to know if their tongues are forked or not. Listen, dear friends, to how they preach the Law and how they preach the Gospel – and if either is erring or lacking, stop up your ears and flee from them.
False prophets misuse the Law of God. When we speak about the Law, dear friends, this refers to anything that has to do with what we do. If it’s about what you do, what you ought to do, what you should do – it’s Law. The Law deals with our behavior, what humans do. And the Law always, always condemns us. There is never a time when we can say, “Finally, I have done what God commands in His Law – finally I am a good Christian.” We cannot be like the young man in Scripture who looks at the commandments and boasts, “All these I have done from my youth.” We know that we sin, we know that we fall short, we know that we err. The Christian life is to be one of constant and continual repentance, where we constantly and repeatedly confess our sins and also struggle against our sinful nature which desires more and more to sin.
Dear friends, if you hear preaching or teaching in the world, if you hear the radio or tv preacher, if you read the so-called Christian book that doesn’t treat God’s law in this way – avoid it. The point of the Law isn’t that you are better than your neighbor. The point of the Law isn’t that if you follow these 8 easy steps you can ensure God’s blessings. The point of the Law isn’t your best life now. Is the Law of God good and wise? Yes – I even have been known to make you sing the old hymn with that title. If we live our life in accord with God’s law, will our lives be smoother? To a certain extent, yes – if I don’t lie, I don’t have to clean up the messes that come from lying. But Christianity is not simply a set of rules to follow, not a moral code to a good time on earth. The Christian faith is about life and salvation – and understanding that we of our own strength have no life and salvation. The Law, when it is preached, must always hit you, hit you right here (on the chest, on the heart) – the Law must convict you of your own sin. Otherwise it is not being preached rightly. And if it’s not being preached rightly, it is being preached falsely, to sell you something, to make God simply a giant goodie dispenser in the sky, to make you confident in yourself and what you do – and that’s the path to hell. Listen to how people preach the Law – and if it doesn’t condemn you, be wary of what they will be preaching.
Also, dear friends, false prophets misuse the Gospel. Actually, they fail to preach the Gospel, that’s a more accurate way to say it – and instead of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, they give something else, they say Lord, Lord, but give nothing. The Gospel is this – that Christ died for you. Given and shed, for you. The Gospel is this – that Christ Jesus does what is necessary for your salvation, and then gives this salvation to you freely, freely forgiving your sins, freely gifting you with faith, freely giving you all that you need to be with Him for eternity in heaven. Anything, any teaching which undermines this Gospel, is of Satan. If that sounds harsh, let me read what Paul writes to the Galatians, who had been listening to false prophets: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Let him be accursed. Anathema in the Greek. Let him be consigned to hell, let him be damned. This is serious, a serious matter – for Satan seeks to lead you astray. Listen to what is preached, and if it is not Christ and Him Crucified, then have nothing to do with it – for false doctrine kills, and is not to be tolerated.
And this is why, dear friends, why the Lutheran Church has put such a focus on teaching. This is why we have confirmation class – it’s not just a hoop to jump through before communing but that we might learn what true doctrine is so that we can avoid the bad. That’s why I harp on the Small Catechism, so that when you are out in the world and hear false prophets, you will know and remember the truth. That’s why you are to teach your children. That’s why we confess the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week – so we are reminded of what we are to be listening for. In all things, we are to see that we avoid false prophets.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is the will of Your Father who is heaven – that you repent of your sin and seek Christ’s forgiveness. That you cry out to Him, create in me a clean heart, O God. That you delight in the salvation which He sets forth before all people – the light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel – that in all times and in all places and in all things, we repent of our sin and cling to Christ Crucified, that we be determined to know nothing other than Christ and Him Crucified. This faith God gives to you by the working of His Word and the power of His Holy Spirit. Hold fast to Christ, be strengthened by the preaching of His Pure Word and His Sacraments given to you, and by His might, flee false prophets and all who would lead you astray. Amen.