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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When our Lord issues a warning, He means it to be taken seriously. “Beware of false prophets,” He says, and we need to beware because they are all around us. The trouble is, they look and sound good; they do and say good things; many of them, no doubt, even mean well. However, do not be fooled—not by church titles or even by official church pronouncements, for those can be sheep’s clothing. To be sure, there are true sheep of Christ wearing such things, but they may also be worn by false prophets. And you will not know if they are true sheep or false prophets simply by what they look like or even how they behave. They will all look and act the same: like sheep.
Instead, Jesus said, “...you will know them by their fruits.” What are the fruits of a prophet? They are not his good works, nor even his apparent success. The fruits of a prophet are the words he speaks. The fruits of a preacher are his preaching, and not what his preaching accomplishes. What does he say about God? Above all, what does he say about Jesus Christ? If he does not preach Christ crucified, if he does not call you to repentance and faith, if he does not bestow on you the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for you, then he is a false prophet, and he is dangerous and even deadly to faith.
And here, you see, is the great irony: false prophets, who dress in sheep’s clothing, preach good works. They try to get bad trees to bear good fruit. And that would seem to be a good thing. But Jesus says: “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.’” Prophesying in His name, casting out demons in His name, performing many wonders in His name—all would seem to be good works; they would seem to be the fruit that good trees produce. But bad trees cannot bear good fruit! Even when their fruit looks good, it is not. And those without a true faith, despite their good intentions, are cast out. God accepts only faith in Jesus Christ, and the justice of God requires that, without that faith, you be cut down and cast into the fire. Your works are not enough. They cannot save you.
Only those who do the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. But the will of the Father is not something you do. That’s the shocking thing, and you, too, may be shocked by that. In all the religions made by men, the best you can ever hope for is good works. But the will of the Father is that His Son drink the cup of His wrath and then spill His own blood on Golgotha’s ground, that you might then drink that life blood in the cup of blessing and live! That is His will. And in this way only, bad trees are declared good as only God is good. For bad trees are grafted into the good Vine, Jesus Christ, and into His works, His faith, His submission to the Father’s will; and it all counts for you. He declares bad trees good, and He welcomes them to Himself in divine grace and mercy. From the crown of thorns that pressed into the Savior’s brow flows wine to make glad the hearts of men, to give them a joy and a peace words can never fully express—a joy found only in the forgiveness of sins and a cleansed conscience.
Without the death of Jesus Christ for all of us, and His defeat of death, Hell, and Satan in His resurrection, there are only bad trees. And without exception, bad trees produce only bad fruit. This is a serious warning from our Lord because it truly is a matter of life and death: spiritual life and death. But do not be afraid. Instead, confess your sins to God, express to Him your heartfelt sorrow for your sin and your desire to amend your life. Trust that Jesus has paid your debt. You are forgiven all your sins. You are loved, and blessed, and cleansed by Him.
There is no one to accuse you. You are now a good tree with good fruit according to His Word and blessing. He blesses the work of your hands, whatever that is, and uses it for the good of the whole world. He gives you good works to do because He gives you a part in His kingdom; because He loves you. You will never enter the kingdom of heaven because of your works, but because of His! But, amazingly, His works now belong to you. And that is because everything He has, He gives to you. You are free: free to believe, free to live, free to serve. In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.