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Be On Your Guard! (St. Matthew 7.15-23)

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

“Be On Your Guard”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus 

St. Matthew 7.15-23

07 August 2022

 

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

In the Historic Lectionary today marks the end of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has spoken about many things in catechizing the people. These words which comprise our Gospel reading are part of the conclusion. Jesus issued a warning to be alert, to watch out, to be on one’s guard against false prophets. A prophet was one who spoke for God. That’s what the title prophet means, to speak forth what one has been given to speak. It is a fine thing that all three readings on this day focus on the necessity of separating truth from error because one’s eternal salvation depends upon listening only to the Word of God and not the words of false prophets. 

The warnings to be on guard against false prophets has roots deep in the Old Testament narrative. The people of Israel were continually backsliding and listening to false prophets. No sooner had they been liberated from Egypt when they made idols for themselves to worship.. Even after entering the Promised Land they fell prey to heathen lies. God sent judges to them to rescue them when they listened to false prophets, but it was the Same Old Story every time. They did not guard the Word of God and paid the price when God gave them up to their enemies. 

As Israel was carried into exile in Babylon because they had not guarded and kept the Word of God, God sent many prophets, chief among them was Jeremiah. 

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ” [Jeremiah 23.16-17]

These false prophets spoke lies out of their own minds but the people would not listen to the truth. God’s anger would not be thwarted until Israel served her punishment in exile. God spoke harsh words to them:

“I did not send the prophets, 

yet they ran; 

I did not speak to them, 

yet they prophesied. 

22  But if they had stood in my council, 

then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, 

and they would have turned them from their evil way, 

and from the evil of their deeds. [ Jeremiah 23.21-22]

In our Second Reading the Apostle Paul reminded the congregation at Ephesus that he had declared the whole counsel of God to them. He had not held back. He spoke the truth. To the pastors [elders] he said:

29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. [Ac 20:29–32].

Here then is the flock of God, purchased with the blood of Christ but there will always be fierce wolves who would destroy God’s people with lies. Paul calls for the elders to be on their guard, to never rest in guarding the flock. 

During the aftermath of the Peasants’ War in Germany [1525], Luther preached to the congregation at St. Mary’s in Wittenberg

We and others have more of the Gospel purely and abundantly (God be praised!) than it has ever been since the apostles’ times. However, when we and others who now help to maintain it are gone, then you will find enough other false preachers, since many have already begun to be active.” [Luther’s Works, AE vol. 78.280]. 

He, too, warned the people to be on guard against the false prophets who attack in every age. Luther raised the critical question, “Why does God let this happen?” Can he not prevent it? Indeed, God can! It was true in the Old Testament and in the apostolic age as well that false prophets afflicted the people. The Apostle Paul gives us a simple answer:

18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. [1 Co 11:18–19].

God tests us to strengthen our faith, but also to weed out the unthankful. Satan will try to rip the pure Word out of your heart and soul. He tries to regain you for himself with lies spoken by the mouth of those who wear sheep’s clothing. Paul got it right when he spoke of the congregation as God’s flock and the ravenous wolves who would come into the flock itself to destroy it.

It was also the Apostle Paul who warned that a time would come when people would not tolerate the truth of God’s Word but would teach things completely contrary to it [2 Tim. 4.3-4]. This teaching would come from within the Church. The wolves infiltrate the flock. They seek to deliver the Christian to eternal wrath and hell. 

Luther predicted that the day would come when the devil’s wiles would engulf all Germany. He had in mind the immediate consequences of the Peasant’s War but also the future when Germany would lose the saving Gospel altogether. And history has recorded that exactly this has happened. The pure Gospel was diluted, then contradicted in Rationalism, and by the 19th century the pure Gospel was pretty much gone from the German people. They turned to the false prophets and two World Wars nearly wiped out any semblance of Christianity in that nation. Today, although Germany retains state supported churches, almost no Germans attend services. In a sense I cannot blame them because no one hears the pure Gospel anymore. When we led our tour in Germany in 1990 we attended a service in Worms, the city where Luther made his courageous defense of the Gospel. The pastor preached a sermon on the economics of the West German nation. Nary a word was said about Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, not a word about repentance and faith. In what I think is a supreme irony, the words of Luther’s Small Catechism are carved in stone around the apse, the chancel proper. There were the words of the truth of God’s Word, and everyone can see them, yet few in that church really believed them! I was relieved that no one our group understood German!

God reminds us through Jeremiah that he did not send the false prophets! They came from themselves! Even if some say they speak out of Christian love they speak lying words. In the August edition of the Esprit I wrote of the Progressive Christian movement. I implore you to read it if you have not done so because if you do not believe that there are false prophets within the flock of Christendom, then you are deluded. 

Observe what happens in so much of contemporary churches these days! There is a stage and there are performers. Screens flash images of the band and those who give their “testimonies,” these words about themselves. Look where it comes from! Be on your guard! Nearly all such churches are founded on the cult of personality, their so-called pastors acting like celebrities.

One does not call himself into the Ministry! One doesn’t simply decide to be a shepherd and gather a flock around himself as many do. Such are the wolves who don sheep’s clothing. They are the covert aggressors. If you want to have some fun, google “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and you’ll come up with some very interesting photos! In one of them one would pass by one of the sheep until one takes another glance. It is a sheep, but that second looks shows the face, eyes, and teeth of a wolf. He’s already among the sheep and they are oblivious to his presence.

Which, do you suppose is worse: A wolf in sheep’s clothing, or a wolf in shepherd’s clothing? [pause] It has been said that “Holy Scripture is a book for heretics,” that is  that heretics claim the Bible as their own. That’s where it starts. They do not proclaim God’s Word but their own in the name of God. Here we are speaking of any false prophet. Reference Progressive Christianity again. For example, when God speaks of his immutable Law it is just as it says. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery.” False shepherds do not believe themselves bound by those plain words but interpret them as “myths” of a darker age. For them Jesus is not the only-begotten Son of God and the Savior of the world, but merely a guide whose words are no longer binding. One summary statement of what they confess needs to be repeated. Here is what they say, and it’s a quote:

“THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS OUR WAY OF BEING FAITHFUL TO GOD. BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY WAY.”

These are the words of false prophets who openly state they they do not believe God’s inspired and inerrant Word. They have become more open and strident, yet they take in many who cannot discern truth and error. They destroy the flock.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with the Word of God which we are to study and commit to memory. Yes, commit to memory! It is the reason that catechumens are required to learn Scripture by heart, to have it in their memories so that they can fend off the attacks of the wolf! The Apostle Paul calls the Word of God the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” [Eph. 6.17]. Those of you who have experience with the military know that much time is spent with learning how to use weapons to defend yourself. These weapons are to be used against the enemy who seeks to end your life. If you do not know how to use a weapon to defend yourself you may end up getting killed. In the mortal combat against false prophets you need to know how to subdue your enemy.Fighting Scripture with Scripture is what we must sometimes do, but if you are unlearned or ignorant you are easy prey for the wolf. Therefore, you should indeed commit yourself faithfully to Christian education. It may be difficult to dig yourself out on Sunday morning for study in the Word, but it may someday save your spiritual life. If you cannot wield the Word of God which is the sword of the Holy Spirit, then you are defenseless and you have made yourself an easy target. 

We fight a never-ending battle in this life. It will not be easy. It will be hard. Yet, God’s victory is sure! He has promised it, but you need to be watchful, be on your guard always. You need to pay close attention to the Word of God!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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