I'm back from the Synod convention, but I was too lazy to write a sermon after I got home late on Thursday. Fortunately, Pastor Timothy Landskroener from Chester once again graciously filled the pulpits at St. Peter in Campbell Hill and Bethel Lutheran in Du Quoin, Illinois. With his permission, here is his sermon. Again, thank you, Pastor Landskroener.
Beware of Wool-Covered Wolves
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:15-16 ESV)
In the Name of Jesus, the only Savior of the world...
The Lord Jesus loved us enough to bear the sins of the world and give up His life for all on the cross of Calvary. He loved us enough to come to us and apply that forgiveness He earned on the cross so that we might enjoy life with Him now and forever. In Holy Baptism, He has washed away our sins, snatched us from the clutches of death and the devil, and made us His own dear children. In Holy Absolution, He forgives our sins through the voice of the pastor He’s given us. In Holy Communion, He gives Himself, His very Body and Blood, into our mouths that we would have forgiveness, life, and salvation - even now. And because Jesus loves us so much and doesn’t want us to be seduced away from Him, He warns us today to, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing.”
Now Jesus is not here warning us about the open and blatant false teachers in this world, though we most certainly should beware of them and avoid them and their teaching. He is not warning us here of the many false religions with which we’re surrounded - Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, paganism, and a host of others. And these don’t include the dangers of the current cultural climate such as atheism, human secularism, and New Ageism. Nonetheless, we must be careful that we not give place to them or their teaching in our lives.
Rather, Jesus is warning us today about false teachers within the Church, that is, “false sons within her pale” (TLH 473.3). And this warning is nothing new. Listen again as the Lord God speaks through His prophet Jeremiah, “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.” (Jer. 23:16). Indeed, these false prophets spout their own opinion, their “vision,” as though it were from God Himself and it’s not. They preach and promote their own vain ideas, and their false teaching leads people away from God and His saving Word. Certainly they lead away from Christ and His saving work.
So while false prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing, we can recognize them by their fruits, that is, by what they preach and teach. You see, you can't always tell by someone's looks or behavior whether or not he's a false prophet because false prophets might well live very pious lives and might perform many works that seem outwardly good. They may even quote the Bible to give their false teaching legitimacy. But even the devil can do that! Yes, false prophets come "in sheep's clothing," and when we remember that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, we see that all false prophets are servants of Satan whether they realize it or not. And instead of delivering life and salvation, they end up fleecing the flock for their own purposes.
True prophets, on the other hand, make people uncomfortable because they tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear. They don’t scratch your itching ears. So it is that today's Old Testament reading says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29). Sometimes God's Word breaks you down, and crushes all your idols and all your self-worship, so that God can build you back up again the right way. You aren't always going to like everything God's Word has to say, but it truly is all for your own good.
But false prophets don’t care for the truth of God’s Word because they’re always trying to gather people and please them. They scratch itching ears by telling them what they want to hear - and that’s often that their sin is okay or that they simply need to do something to be a better Christian, and thus make their life better. They appeal to man’s pride and self-delusion. That’s why there’s seldom a word of condemnation for sin, any sin, and therefore, no call to repentance. Rather, there may be great emphasis on “the mission,” whatever that is. But be assured it usually has to do with increasing the bottom line. That’s why there’s an over-emphasis on what we’re supposed to do. If only we do and say all the right things, then certainly numerical growth will happen. Thus Jesus is usually held up as a good example and not as the only Savior from sin, death, and the devil. False teachers appeal to man’s desires, and that’s why they so often attract larger crowds than the true preachers of God's Word. And that’s why we need to get over the silly notion that what makes a good preacher is that he attracts all kinds of people and generates income. That's a sure fire way to fall victim to a false prophet.
You see, what a preacher teaches is what matters, and not how many people or how much cash he rakes in. After all, most of the time Christ only had 12 followers and when He was crucified even they abandoned him. According to most people's thinking, Christ was a very unsuccessful prophet, when in reality, He was the truest prophet of all. That's why all true prophets, all true preachers, ultimately point you to Christ alone for your salvation. The true prophets preach only God's Word, the very Word which became incarnate in the flesh of the man Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son. True prophets aren't ashamed of God's Word no matter how unpopular it may be to others. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are found only in the Truth of God's Word and never in the lying mouths of the false prophets.
“By their fruits you will know them.” True prophets lead people to Christ, false prophets lead people away from Christ and His Word and work. That's the ultimate test. The bad fruit is all the false teaching that centers on sinful perverted man, and the good fruit is all the true teaching that centers on Christ and what He's done for us. The good tree that produces good fruit is the only tree that lasts. After all, Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” That means that false prophets go to hell, and tragically they take their followers with them. So if you think your sin isn’t that big a deal, if you think God's Word changes with times, if you think the warnings about false prophets aren't important, then you need to repent right now or you’ll share the fate of the false prophets. Repent, and receive the mercy and forgiveness that God generously gives to you in Christ.
For no matter how sincere false prophets are, no matter how much they actually think they're doing God's will, they will still be thrown into the fire. According to the Gospel reading many false prophets actually think they're doing God's work. Christ tells us, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” False prophets claim to do the work of the Lord, just as in our Old Testament reading they claimed to speak for the Lord, but they are condemned for declaring lies in the Lord's name.
That’s why Christ Jesus issues us His solemn warning. He wants you to be with Him forever so He wants you to be aware of false teachers within the Church, those wolves in sheep’s clothing, who would lead you away from Him. Do not cling to your own works, intentions, self-delusions, or idols, but cling only to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He alone gave up His life and shed His blood on the good tree of the cross, so that you could have the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. Christ alone is the tree that produces good fruit, and all his true prophets proclaim this. These prophets are sent by God to give you the good fruit of His Word and Sacraments. Whenever you hear the Word preached in its truth and purity, whenever you receive the Body and Blood of Christ in repentant faith, you receive the good fruit that gives nourishment unto eternal life. And here our Lord gives you more than enough good fruit to fill you for eternity. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.