In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I guess that we are going to talk about false prophets today. That seems to be the theme given in our texts this evening/morning. Beware of false prophets. Sadly, we are in a fallen world. Sadly, we are surrounded by sin and death. Sadly, the devil is always around trying to shatter our faith. And how is this done, how does Satan try to bring us down? Often it is through our ears, through what we hear, through his lies that try to make us forget Christ Jesus. Let us this day, though, listen to the true Word, God’s Word, and see what we learn about false prophets.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” That’s the problem with false prophets. At first glance, they look nice. Them seem like great people, they look exactly like what we would want to be. Well off, well liked, charming and good-looking. They seek to have fame and power and success – and who wouldn’t want that. But they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour, ready to destroy you. Satan is cunning, Satan is tricky. Yes, sometimes his servants are gross and evil and crazy looking, but quite often, they seem fair, they seem lovely – but bring with them death. This means you can’t evaluate on simple appearances. Just because someone looks nice; that doesn’t mean he’s from God. Just because he has a great life; that doesn’t mean He speaks the truth. Just because people flock to and listen to someone doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus. We can’t simply skim the surface. Rather, here is what we must do.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” This is how we tell who a false prophet is, by their fruit. Fruit? Well, what fruit are we talking about here? There is a lot of fruit in our lives. How we show love. Or peace. Or faith. These are all fruits, all things that flow from our lives in Christ. And remember what our Lord teaches us about our fruit - “I am the vine; you are the branches – whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” When we are in Christ, when our lives are centered in Him, fruits will flow. It simply will happen. So what then, do these fruits look like? What should we expect fruits to look like? The fruit should point to where it came from. If I take a piece of fruit, say a grape – I should be able to figure out that it came from a grape vine. If I get a fig, I should be able to tell that it came from a fig tree. With our fruit, our works, it should be obvious that they come not from ourselves, but from Christ. Good fruit, good works always point not to ourselves, but to Christ and to Him alone.
And that’s how you spot a false prophet – that’s how you can tell if someone is truly preaching Christ and His Word, or if they are false. Do their works and deeds point to Christ Crucified, or do they point somewhere else? When you see them, do they draw attention to themselves, or is their focus and the focus of what they do on Christ and what Christ has done? A lot of times when we do things, we do them to draw attention to ourselves. We like honor, we like recognition, we can want our work to bring us a bit of fame and respect. That’s not what our actions are meant to do. When people look at us, they shouldn’t see us – they should be pointed to Christ. That’s the classic reason why pastors wear an alb, why infants used to wear white at their baptism. It’s not about the person, the individual and what they do, but rather the Gospel of Christ. The white gown hides servant, shows that they are clothed in Christ by virtue of their baptism. What is important isn’t how wonderful or how lousy the person is, but rather the greatness of Christ and His salvation. Thus, when it comes to spotting a false prophet, the question is are the sermons of the Pastor focusing on Christ Jesus and His salvation, or something else? Is the fact that we are clothed in the robes of Christ's righteousness being proclaimed, or is it the “look at me” show? All too often Pastors will preach themselves – point to how great they are, how much you should want to be like them, or even give their own thoughts and opinions about the world. That’s never the point – the point of every sermon must always be Christ Jesus and Him Crucified.
This is a high, high standard. How do you separate a false prophet from a true one? Is their focus on Christ and Him Crucified? It’s not just if they talk about the bible, because even Satan can do that. It’s not just if they mention Christ in passing – not do they happen to say the name Jesus – but is Jesus Christ and what He does to win salvation their focus in their preaching? Is what they say ultimately about Christ? Sadly to say, this often isn’t the case. When we look at the bookstores, the TV shows, there often isn’t much about Jesus. There’s a lot about what I can do, how I can be successful and happy– but there isn’t a lot of talk about what Jesus does or what Jesus makes me to be. The focus is wrong – the focus isn’t on Christ – and therefore it isn't really Christian. Just because something claims to be Christian doesn’t mean it benefits your faith. To be Christian is to be about Christ. Paul says that he is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – that’s what it is to be Christian. However, lots of people who claim to be preachers will focus on anything and everything but Christ.
Jesus warns us of this. “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. 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 I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”” That’s pretty strong stuff there, isn’t it? Here you have Jesus addressing folks who looked to be the best – they did wonders and seemed powerful… but they are cast out. They are workers of lawlessness. They oppose and disdain the will of the Father. God’s Will is not that you be amazed at how good a preacher is, but rather this: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That sums up the Father’s will – that people believe in Christ. That people trust in Christ. That people be baptized and taught the faith. That we show people Christ so that they trust in Him. And there are false prophets today – people who say “Lord, Lord” – but then would wrest your eyes off of Jesus and place it elsewhere. Our focus is to be on Christ – Come, Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Everything that is Christian should be able to be boiled down to this, every preaching, every teaching should revolve around this truth – I am the sinner, but Christ has died for me and gives me all that He is. And if it can’t be boiled down to that – then it’s not truly Christian, it doesn’t matter how much it claims to talk about Jesus or the Bible. It might be wise, it might be good, practical advice – but it isn’t what the Church is to be about. The Church teaches faith in Christ Jesus, and faith looks to Jesus Christ alone.
This is the standard for what goes on in this Church. This is the bar that Christ sets. The preaching, it’s to be about Christ and Him crucified, and clearly so – not just a dash of Jesus tossed in. The service – it’s all about what Christ has done for us. The songs – they aren’t primarily about what we do – but about what Jesus does for us. Our hymnal is full of examples, but consider what we just sang. “O Jesus Christ my Lord, so meek in deed and word, Thou once didst die to save us, Because Thy love would have us be heirs of heavenly gladness when ends this life of sadness.” It’s about what Jesus does for you – that’s the focus – that is why we sing His praises forever more. And note I said “we” - because one of the things that is a hallmark of how we as Lutherans approach worship is that you folks end up spending quite a bit of the service speaking God's Word and proclaiming Christ to each other and to me. Faith comes by hearing, and the part of the service where I as the pastor get nourished is when I hear you speak the Word of God to me in the liturgy, or when you sing and I hear what Christ has done for me. In many ways this service is a conversation, a time where we proclaim Christ Jesus back and forth to each other so that we all would be forgiven and grow in the faith together.
Because this is the case, if our preaching, our worship, our hymns don’t point to Christ – what good are they? They might be fun, or enjoyable, or even moral – and there is a time for fun and merry conversations - but when it comes time to talk about Jesus, which is what worship is, if it doesn't proclaim Christ Crucified, it misses the point. And the danger is this, we can like a lot of things that don’t really point to Christ. People love being “religious” – love feeling that they are being spiritual – but having a feeling or being able to pat yourself on the back for all the things you do for God isn’t the point. Christ Crucified is the point and always has to remain the point. Paul tells the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Our focus here in this house is always to be on the Gospel, that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and it is never to stray.
And this is what God is doing for you here in His House. He calls you here, out of the world where there are so many distractions and temptations and difficulties and says, “now, see what I have done for you. Look to me.” Why does Jesus tell us to beware of false prophets? Because we tend to wander. We tend to like to follow after the foolish desires of our hearts – and Satan knows that, and Satan tries to draw us away and distract us. Over and against this, God calls us to His House, gives us His Word, His Supper, forgives our sin, opens our lips so that our mouth declare His praise – so that we are not only focused on Christ, but that we are made by Him to be people who proclaim Christ and Him Crucified not just in this hour, but throughout the week. To counteract and fight Satan in this World, God continually places His Word and Spirit in us – the Spirit who bears witness in us and through us to the world concerning the love of Christ Jesus and His salvation. God grant that He ever defend us from all false prophets and ever open our lips to proclaim the glories of His salvation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.