Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trinity 8

Trinity 8 - July 29th, 2012 - Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
    "Beware of false prophets".  That is how our Gospel lesson begins today - and so I will ask.  How often do you, O Christian, end up being wary, end up looking out for false prophets?  Is it something you even really ever think about doing?  Because you do need to be on guard against false prophet, because Satan is still active, still wants to lead you astray.  But do we even really think about there being false propohets today?  Part of the problem might be that we don't even think of their being prophets -- now, if some random fellow starts making bizarre predictions, we tend to write him off - but a false prophet is more than that.  The word "prophet" doesn't just mean some guy making predictions about the future -- anyone who is teaching, explaining the Word of God - saying, "This is what God means when He says" is taking on the role of a prophet.  Anyone who teaches about God, who claims authority to talk about God and instructs others is a prophet.  It means false teachers, false preachers as well -- and those we have around us today in spades.  So today, we will listen to our Lord's warnings and consider how best to know who false teachers are.

    "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."  The very first thing to note is our Lord speaks of deception.  Of false teachers trying to appear good and righteous and holy, and yet being something much more dangerous.  They are wolves in sheep's clothing - that famous phrase.  Now, before just skittering past that, let's ponder this for a bit.  Part of false teaching is deception, is putting forth a false front.  This makes sense, for since they are false they are serving Satan, and over and over we are told that Satan is a liar, is full of deception, wants to lead people astray.  The very first thing to be wary of is if someone wants you to put forward a false face.  Martin Luther, in describing a good theologian, a good teacher, said that a good theologian "calls a thing what it is."  This includes when we talk about ourselves.  Do we put up a false front, do we throw on a sheep skin to look harmless, or are we honest and truthful about who we are?  This is why I love having Confession and Absolution at the beginning of service -- no more masks, no more trying to pretend to everyone that everything is wonderful -- no, we are honest.  We are poor miserable sinners.  Does the preacher try to tell you that he doesn't sin, that he has found the key to being perfect, does he offer to "teach" you to do the same?  Then he is a false prophet.

    Continuing on, we hear this: "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."  Now, think about this - there is a contrast that is set up. First Jesus warned us that we these folks will try to decieve us, that they won't be what they appear.  Then He tells us that we will know them by their fruits.  Well, which is it Jesus?  Do we judge by how they appear?  Do we judge by works and what they do - and if so wouldn't we expect the righteous and true to have better works?  Here is the problem.  "Fruit" does not equal works that look good.  That's not the fruit.  Yes, good works and kindness flow forth from a Christian and part of our lives - but that's not what defines, what shapes a Christian.  I know plenty of athiests who are quite nice and give plenty to charity - but you wouldn't want them to teach you about Jesus because they'd be quite wrong.  Jesus goes and lists some false fruits, so let's look at those first.

    “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."  Just running around talking about Jesus, just claiming to know, to believe - that's not a fruit.  Of course it's not - every false prophet is going to claim to believe in Jesus, everyone who has been decieved and led astray is going to think they are right.  And not just people who claim Christ - listen to our Lord go on.  "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?’ 23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"  Casting out demons, doing mighty works, miracles -- even these aren't the fruit by which we are to discern false teachers.  No, our Lord gives two phrases that teach, that instruct -- those who do the will of the Father are good, and the workers of lawlessness are bad.

    Oh great.  Now Pastor is going to drop a serious Law Bomb here and just hammer us up and down and back and forth about what we need to do for God.  No, not quite.  In John 6 Jesus is asked, "What must we do to be doing the work of God."  And Jesus' answer is quite simple - “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."  Consider - what is the will of God?  What is God's Will?  Well, that we fallen men be saved.  That though we have sinned, Christ Jesus has died for us - when Christ prays in the Garden that the Father's will be done, it sends Him to the Cross.  This is the key, this is the test.  You know the verse where our Lord says, "I am the vine, you are the branches, He who abides in Me shall bear much fruit."  If we are attached to Christ, what will come forth from our mouths but Christ?  What will we speak but Christ and His mercy and forgiveness?  What does God desire but that people know His mercy, know His steadfast love which endures forever?

    For this to be known, a preacher, a true and right one will have to preach two truths, two things - Law and Gospel.  The Law must be preached, and anyone who doesn't preach God's Law is a false prophet.  We are not to be workers of lawlessness, we are not to ignore what God has said.  When God says, "thou shall not" - you shall not.  This was the other week, but whoever lessens a commandment is to be called least in the Kingdom of God.  And there are two reasons we as Christians need the Law.  For one, it instructs us, it guides it, it teaches us how to love our neighbor.  You neighbor needs you, needs your kindness, your love, your compassion.  God's law reminds you of that, teaches you that - it is for your neighbor's good that you follow the Law, and God would have you learn the Law for your neighbor's sake.  But also this - God would have you learn the Law so that you might know that you are a sinner who is in need of salvation.  The Law shows you your sin - the Law shows you your need to confess, to repent.  And here's the thing - if you don't think you are that big of a sinner - you aren't going to think you need a Savior.  And then you's remain in your sins and you'd die.  That's why those who don't preach the Law are so dangerous - they will strangle your faith to death with false contentment - they will in their sheep's clothing praise you up and down and tell you how wonderful you are, while never showing you your need for Christ -- and your faith... withers away.  The Law must be preached - we must have that reflection upon the truth that we fall short - otherwise we will end up ignoring Christ.

    And then there is the other thing that a true preacher must do - he must proclaim Christ and Him crucified for your sin.  Not only must you hear that you sin, but you must hear that Christ Jesus has died for your sins.  This seems obvious - of course people are going to preach that Jesus has died for your sins.  But I tell you - be wary of this.  All false doctrine, all false teaching cuts and attacks this truth - it attacks Christ dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins.  And this can be a subtle attack - it can be merely the glamorization of certain sins so that they aren't forgiven.  It can be an approach where Christ's forgiveness is just assumed -- but then let's get on to something else, something that is more important -- as though anything you do is more important that Christ Jesus dying for the sins of the world.  It is not just those who cry "Lord, Lord" - but those who point to the Crucified One, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And the Gospel is this -- not just that Jesus did stuff once, long ago but now we are on our own.  No, the Gospel is this - Christ Jesus has died for your sins, and by His Word and Spirit He now gives you this forgiveness, and you are forgiven.  Right now, this is a reality, you are forgiven - your sin has been taken from you, you have been turned away from it, brought to repentance, and you have life in His name, life now and life everlasting.  Anything else, anything less than this - it is false teaching, it is a false prophet trying to give you peace apart from Christ - and apart from Christ Jesus there is no peace.

    Be wary, my friends.  Pay attention, for around us is a constant prattering and blathering about God - and much of it is false, much of it is junk, much of it would decieve you and lead you astray.  But this is God's will for you - that you repent and struggle against sin, and that you believe in Christ Jesus who has died for your sin.  He is your righteousness, your life, the fulfiller of all things for you.  In Him you have salvation - let your focus ever be upon Him.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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