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Discerning False Prophets (St. Matthew 7:15-23)

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Discerning False Prophets

St. Matthew 7:15-23

11 August 2019

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Jesus says today to beware of false prophets. They are plundering wolves, they are rotten trees, they produce bad fruit. The most dangerous false prophets are those who appear harmless. They appear to have everything right and to be right by the world’s reckoning, who outwardly seem to have it together and enjoy the world’s approval. They may even use the Lord’s name, and do great things using His name. But we remember that if Satan wants to mislead the children of God, he transforms himself into an angel of light. If the wolf wants to enter the flock, he dons the sheep’s skin. [1]

Their “fruits” are people, souls, who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who do not live according to the Lord’s will as our Collect today asks. This rotten fruit show itself even among those who self-identify as Christians, and we see and hear views contrary to God’s Word being confessed as if they are true.

For example, according to a Pew Research poll this week, just 31% of American Roman Catholics believe that in the Holy Communion, the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus. 69% believe the bread and wine are “symbols” of the body and blood of Jesus. [2] I’m not picking on Roman Catholics – that’s who the survey results were published for. But I fear among those who identify as Lutherans in this country, numbers may not be better on this doctrine, and may likely be worse.

There is a dominant false preaching and teaching in America today, and too many Christians fall for it. It produces bad fruit. It is the de facto religion of the American people to believe that:

  • A “God” exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • “God” wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • “God” does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when “God” is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die. [3]

This is what is called “Moral Therapeutic Deism” – the teaching that “God” – who could be any deity, truly – wants us to do good to others, while being happy and self-fulfilled personally. Said “God” stands by the wayside until needed to resolve a problem. The number one way to please this “God” is to be happy and not be down about yourself or others. Perhaps the biggest rule to follow is that you are not to be judgmental about the lifestyle choices that those around you make. This makes one a “good person” who is liked by everyone and so when they die everyone agrees this person must be in heaven.

This rotten preaching produces a self-centered and self-righteous people, who do not recognize their sinful condition and their need for a Savior from sin. It produces people who do not know the really good tree that produces good fruit – the saving cross of Jesus Christ, and so they do not know the Savior who died on that cross and rose again for them.

It produces people then who do not see the need for them or their children to be Baptized for the forgiveness of sins and to be adopted as God’s sons and heirs. It produces a people who do not receive the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, the Spirit who sanctifies their heart and mind as believers in Jesus to trust their Savior, who guides them to call out to their Father in believing prayer and trust Him for all things. Instead, they trust only themselves and look out only for themselves and not for their neighbor. It produces a people who do not see or believe that God has heavenly gifts to give them that sustain and keep them in His grace in the Divine Service, who do not see the transcendent love of God there for them where Jesus promises to be.

Not all the ones saying to me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who is doing the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7.21)

So not all preaching is good. These rotten trees will eventually be cut down by God.

But thanks be to God, there is good preaching, that produces good fruit, that by the power of the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy believers who do the will of the Father in heaven. This preaching and teaching begins and ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. He did the will of His Father perfectly in taking on our humanity, denying Himself, taking up our cross, and taking the punishment for our sins unto death, even death on a cross. In doing the will of His Father, He conquered sin, death, and devil, and now He lives forever, ruling His Church and upholding the world until He comes again in glory at the end of time.

This Savior and Lord is to be preached, proclaimed, taught, and confessed in the world. He is there in every letter of the Scriptures, they tell of Him and they are fulfilled only by Him. You search the Scriptures, Jesus says, and “these are they which testify of me.” No other deity, no other “god”, no moral therapeutic nonsense, no other means by which you may be saved can ever be held to. It is a false prophet, a fake spirit, a work of the devil to proclaim anything else than Christ crucified and resurrected for men to be saved.

It is incumbent upon you as Christians to know true preaching from false preaching. To know and discern the rotten tree from the good one. All preachers and all hearers are subject to the holy and unalterable rule and norm of God’s most holy Word, the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. Everything that is preached and taught must be weighed against God’s Word. Everyone, teacher and hearer, will be judged according to it at the Last Day!

The pure doctrine of God’s Word must be more dear and precious to you than anything else in the world, and you must be so certain of its teaching that you would rather die than depart from even one letter of it. Your faith should not rest upon being loved by or popular with other people, even if they seem holy and wise, but your trust must be put on the infallible Word of God. With the disciples of Jesus you must say in the face of this world: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6.68-69) [4]

Take up the blessed Scriptures and search them daily. Read them aloud at home, pray and sing hymns at home, use the simple order we give you in each week’s Parish News. Come to Bible Class on Sunday mornings. This fall I intend to start a new Wednesday morning Bible Class, and we intend to offer short evening courses in fall and spring as we did last year.

Take up Luther’s Small Catechism. We repeat out loud one section here every week. Read and pray this book in your home. Remember that what is absolutely necessary for you to know for your salvation and for the test of pure doctrine, you will find briefly and simply stated in your Catechism. From the first chief part you learn to know true, God-pleasing works, from the second true, saving faith, from the third true prayer, from the fourth, fifth, and sixth the true Sacraments and the power of the Church, from the Table of Duties true Christian conduct in your calling and station, from the Daily Prayers salutary models for prayer at all times of each day. [5]

The true preacher of God’s Word produces not just the fruits of a holy life, but the fruits of pure doctrine. Nobody is sent by God, nobody lives according to the will of the Father, but he who preaches to poor sinners that His dear Son Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. For it is the will of the heavenly Father that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.” (John 6.40) And St. John says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4.2-3) St. Paul says that we preach Christ crucified, that we are not ashamed of the cross of Christ nor of the Gospel – it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. If it is shown to you through the preacher how you can come to Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, remain with Him, suffer with Him, and die blessedly through Jesus Christ, you hear a true prophet. For if you receive Christ crucified and resurrected, you receive enough; and if you have the living and ascended Christ, you have everything. [6]

These then are the fruits born from the preaching of Christ’s righteousness: you have been won in His saving death and resurrection. You have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, you live according to the Father’s will, and so die to this life and live forever in the world to come; and you, while there is still day left in this world, love all those whom Jesus Christ loves.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

[1] CFW Walther, Sermon for Trinity 8, Gospel Sermons Volume 2, 74.

[2] Accessed at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/05/transubstantiation-eucharist-u-s-catholics/

[3] Rod Dreher, “The Triumph of MTD”, accessed at https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-triumph-of-mtd-catholicism-bishop-robert-barron/

[4] CFW Walther, Sermon for Trinity 8, Gospel Sermons Volume 2, 73.

[5] Walther, 73-74.

[6] Walther 76.

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