The Eighth Sunday after Trinity, August 1, 2004
ďBeware of False ProphetsĒ
The words of Jesus to which we
direct our attention this morning are a portion of His Sermon on the
Mount. Jesus has preached this sermon for nearly two thousand years
now to Christians all around the world.
He preaches it to us this morning.
This sermon begins with the
Beatitudes, or ďBlesseds.Ē Jesus
promises blessing to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in
heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for
righteousnessí sake. Jesus
blesses us by talking to us. When
Jesus speaks He brings us joy. Thatís
what blessing is. It is
being made happy by God Himself. All
blessings come from God and it is Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son,
through whom all blessings from God flow.
The word of God is never empty. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, ďMy word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.Ē (Isaiah 55:11) Only Godís word has this power. God says it and it is so because God says it. Our words are often impotent. Our promises often fail. Parents promise to do things for their children that they never do. Husbands promise faithfulness to their wives and go out and commit adultery. The son or daughter who promised to call forgot or got too busy because thatís how life is. The friend who said heíd be there didnít show up. Our word is only as strong and faithful as we are. The Bible says, ďlet God be true but every man a liar.Ē (Romans 3:4) Godís word never fails. It always accomplishes what He pleases. Godís word always prospers in the thing for which He sent it. It is not possible that God could speak His word to you and it would not give what it promised to give.
This is why we must learn
to distinguish between Godís word and manís word.
We must not set forth manís word as if it is Godís word.
We must not set forth Godís word as if it is merely a manís
word. This is what false
prophets do. Jesus says,
ďBeware of false prophets.Ē False
prophets are religious teachers who claim to speak for God when God
neither sent them nor commanded them to speak.
False prophets send themselves.
They have no call from God.
They promote their own ideas as if they are Godís word.
They appear as harmless as sheep.
They invade the flock by appearing to belong to the flock.
But they are not sheep. They
are hungry wolves who live by mean of killing the sheep and eating them
You can recognize the false
prophet by his fruit. A
good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.
The good tree is the tree of the cross upon which the Lord Jesus
died for the flock. The
sheep are fed and nourished by the fruit from this good tree, that is,
the gospel and the sacraments that come from the crucified and risen
Lord Jesus. On Good Friday,
water and blood flowed from the pierced side of Jesus right after He had
borne in His sacred body the sin of the world. This was to signify that Christ would bring forgiveness and
salvation to His people by means of Holy Baptism and the Lordís
Supper. These sacraments
are the good fruit from that good tree.
The gospel of the forgiveness of sins is the good fruit of that
good tree. As surely as
Jesus died for us God forgives us all our sins for Jesusí sake.
No bad fruit can come from the tree of Christís crucifixion. There it is that mercy triumphs over justice, war gives way
to peace, death is swallowed up by life, and innocence confronts guilt
and destroys it. That tree
cannot bear bad fruit. This
is why we say with St. Paul, ďBut God forbid that I should glory
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been
crucified to me, and I to the world.Ē (Galatians 6:14)
Just as the good tree cannot
bear bad fruit, so also the bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
False prophets practice nothing but lawlessness.
They often make a big show of their devotion to an outward
appearance of sanctity. In
fact, they appear to be quite holy.
Thatís the sheepís clothing.
You know them by their fruits.
They may claim allegiance to the Bible, but they donít proclaim
the message of Christ crucified for sinners.
They direct sinners elsewhere than to the vicarious suffering of
Jesus. They do not preach
the pure gospel of the full and free forgiveness of sins for Christís
sake. They denigrate Holy
Baptism and the Lordís Supper, depriving Godís children of the great
comfort the sacraments give. They
substitute in the place of Godís saving gospel a message of human
potential and human righteousness.
This results in lawlessness.
This false gospel cannot bear good fruit because it teaches
sinners to put their confidence in their own flesh instead of in the
blood and righteousness of Jesus.
The pure doctrine gives us pure
and holy lives to live. The
source of true holiness is the good tree of Calvary.
The fruit of that tree is forgiveness, freedom, peace with God,
and everlasting life. All
this comes from the sacred wounds of Jesus who on the cross takes our
sin away. The fruit of the
bad tree is a life that is lived outside of fellowship with God that
leads only to death. The
false teaching of the false prophet changes with the times (although new
errors are usually just old errors dressed up in new clothing).
Godís word, on the other hand, cannot change because God cannot
change. The truth that God
reveals does not depend on human will, strength, effort, or virtue.
Godís word is truth. It
will remain always and everywhere the same.
When Jesus says to beware of
false prophets, Heís not just talking to the preachers.
He is talking to every individual Christian.
He is telling us that wherever there are true preachers there
will also be false preachers. The
devil casts doubt on whatever God says.
Wherever God establishes His church, the devil is right there
setting up a chapel. This
is what we should expect. This
is why the church on earth is always militant.
She is at war. When she stops fighting, she dies.
Jesus warns us about false
prophets. The New Testament
itself is proof that false teachers would arise.
The church has had to confess against error from its very
infancy. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:19, ďFor there must
also be heresies among you, that those who are approved may be
recognized among you.Ē It
isnít a question of whether or not false teaching will come upon the
church. It will.
When St. Paul gave Timothy the command to preach, he also gave
him clear warning of what was to come, as we read in 2 Timothy 4:2-4:
St. Peter warned of the same
thing, when he directed Christians to the Bible as a defense against
St. Paul encouraged the pastors
in Ephesus, as recorded in Acts 20:
The peace of the church and
every individual Christian is a spiritual peace that comes from the Holy
Spirit. It is not an outward peace in which we slide on through life
without facing conflict. We
shouldnít be looking to fight for the sake of fighting.
But we must be ready to do spiritual battle and that requires us
to contend for Godís truth. We
must be aware of the fact that the pure doctrine will always be opposed.
Having the truth is not to be taken for granted.
Every individual Christian is responsible for what his pastor
preaches to him. That means you must judge the teaching of your pastor.
A high respect for the pastoral office is a good thing, but it is
no disrespect for the pastoral office for a Christian to require of his
pastor proof from Godís word for what he is teaching and preaching.
This is one reason we catechize our children and continue to
remain students of the Catechism throughout our lives.
Just as we are responsible for what goes into our bodies, we are
responsible for what goes into our souls.
When churches begin to ordain
openly unrepentant homosexuals as pastors we are shocked and ask how it
could have come to this. But
it didnít happen over night. It
took years and years of neglect as the laity refused to hold their
pastors to the standards of the Bible and the Confessions.
As St. Paul reminds us, ďA little leaven leavens the whole
lump.Ē (Galatians 5:9) When
the voices of the false prophets are given equal standing with the voice
of God, the voice of God is silenced and that is the greatest tragedy
that could befall the church on earth.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife
left to go to the Lake and took our five youngest with her.
I have her voice on the telephone answering machine in my office,
and I will play it just because I miss her and I love to hear her voice. But sheís still hundreds of miles away and itís just a
recording. Godís word
isnít like that. Whenever
we hear Godís word, God Himself is present and God Himself is speaking
and God Himself is giving us what His words say.
Godís word is never inert or lifeless.
His law always shows us our sins and convicts us.
It makes us aware of our need for forgiveness.
It attacks our pride and destroys the false faith of our flesh.
His gospel always gives to us the forgiveness of our sins, the
good fruit that Jesus gained for us on the good tree upon which He bore
our condemnation and took away all our sin and death.
His gospel never fails to give us comfort when our consciences
are afraid and we suffer doubts about Godís faithfulness to us.
The pure gospel is the most precious treasure we have in this
world. This is why we take to heart Jesusí warning, ďBeware of
false prophets.Ē This is
why we stubbornly mark and avoid all false teachers.
Christís words have brought us into fellowship with the holy
God and promised us pardon for the present and joy for all eternity.
We need what Christís pure gospel alone can provide and we will
never settle for anything less.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus