SERMON FOR THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 8-11-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Introit: Psalm 48
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Epistle: Acts 20:27-38
Gospel: Matthew 7:15-23
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. This is the Word of the Lord.
Not just the Gospel, which I just read, but all three readings you heard today, from Jeremiah and the books of Acts also are dealing with one theme. All three reading are warnings – very serious warnings about the dangers of false teachers. Beware of false teachers, warns our Lord, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. So just because someone calls himself reverend, or pastor, or teacher doesn’t mean he always speaks the truth.
You see, Satan also is a preacher. He’s been preaching and teaching for a long time. He’s got lots of disciples. And he’s got lots of preachers as well. And when he speaks out of his mouth come lies, half-truths, and twisted things, as the apostle Paul put it this morning. This ravenous wolf, the devil, slithers into the ears of his victims, in order to “draw away” disciples from Jesus, thus bringing condemnation and eternal death. Jesus exhorts you to look out for them, these false preachers. And He tells you this morning how to watch out for them. But guess what? It’s not with your eyes that you’ll recognize them, for deception is the name of the game with the devil. Instead, you are to recognize them by their words, by what they speak, and what you hear. Thus you will recognize them by their fruit, says our Lord, in other words, by what they teach.
Out of every Lutheran pastor’s mouth, on the day of his ordination, and when he is installed in the Christian congregation, he opens his mouth, and says this: “Yes, I do believe and confess the canonical Scriptures [that’s the Bible!] to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” What does that mean? It means that he, by God’s grace and by His Spirit, is going to teach and preach and guide the lives of those under his charge only with God’s Word. And he is called to do this, even when the preachers of this fallen world are trying to lead you, or your loved ones, or your children elsewhere.
So when your daughter thinks it’s a good idea to move in with her boyfriend, don’t expect your pastor to wink and look the other way. Expect him to say, “No you won’t…God loves you. He wants you to know that living together, and doing husband and wife things, apart from God’s gift of marriage, that’s sinning. It’s sinning against God and it’s sinning against one another. Remember the Sixth Commandment, what you learned? God’s Word says that marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed be kept pure and undefiled. So now you know. Repent. Remember your baptism. Be forgiven! For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
And how about this? It’s soccer season. It’s a select league, and all the other kids will be there on Sunday mornings. So pastor, you won’t see us for catechism anymore, or on the Lord’s Day for the next three months. But don’t be deceived! Because what we call a lifestyle decision, the Lord calls idolatry – plain and simple - and anything – and everything that stands in the way of worship, and hearing and learning His Word, God has a name for that. And it’s not lifestyle, it’s idolatry.
False preachers are saying that two men can get married. False preachers are teaching that boys and girls are not actually boys and girls. False preachers from hell preach that a child in the womb is not actually a child in the womb. False preachers teach that God’s Word is not actually God’s Word. The devil is a liar.
But pastor, everyone is doing it. And we don’t want to drive anyone away. And, aren’t we being judgmental?
No! These are the exact same objections that Jeremiah was dealing with in our first reading this morning. You see, in Jeremiah’s day, false teachers were running around Judah, saying to those who were thinking little of God’s Word, “It shall all be well with you…and no disaster shall come upon you.” Under their deceptive words they were saying this: “No repentance necessary, folks! Just follow your own hearts and do what you think is right. Follow the world’s way of doing things. After all, everyone is doing it. Indulge in whatever pleasure you want to indulge in. Live for yourself. And just slap a little religion on there and everything will be fine.”
The false prophets in Jeremiah’s day were preaching the same stuff you hear today: “Sin, judgment, threats of hell – come on, that’s old-fashioned stuff, Pastor! Come on, Jeremiah, get with the times! Relax a little. Don’t take things so seriously.” It’s a preaching that accepts the lie that you can be friends with the world and friends of God at the same time. That you can get the best of both worlds. That you can stubbornly and cheerfully cozy up to your sin and cozy up to God at the same time.
Read the prophets, folks! All the prophets in the Old Testament preached against this very lie. They warned against the false prophets who say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace!
But the truth is you can’t coddle the rebellions of your heart and still retain saving faith and a living relationship with the living God. So no. There is no intention to drive people away or be judgmental. Only, by God’s grace, to be faithful. To preach the Word, in season and out of season. That is, when folks are hearing and believing and also when that very word of truth is being flat-out rejected. Correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful teaching. That’s what the Bible says!
So every Christian should say, “Open your mouth, preacher, and speak the sternness of the law, that our sins merit eternal wrath, judgment, and condemnation, and then, preacher, announce the good news, that Jesus Himself took that wrath, and took that judgment and condemnation that should have fallen down on us – and instead let all hell rain down on Him! Tell us again how it is that God’s kindness and favor, His grace and mercy rain down upon us today – in His holy Word and sacraments. Tell us, again, how by faith in Jesus we may live new and holy lives!
The true preacher preaches Jesus. He preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. He preaches that is was necessary for Jesus to die and to rise for our justification.
Sin is the bitter reality in which we are conceived and born. It is the stench in the souls of the holiest and noblest of men. Sin describes the most virtuous woman. It is the condition of the newborn infant. It is selfishness, self-exaltation, pride, and every fruit these vices produce.
Another lie of the false prophets is that they preach a version of the law that the people can perform. They want disciples to follow them not Jesus, so they avoid offending the people by confronting them with their sin. They are careful to make the law doable. But that’s a lie because God’s law accuses. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. It crushes us. It leaves us helpless. It shows us the sin that clings to us and that pollutes even our holiest desires. It convicts our conscience and lays us bare before God with no excuses. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! we pray.
God has mercy for Christ’s sake. But the false prophet dangles the gospel just out of your reach, teaching you what you must do to get it. Christ does no such thing. He sees you helpless. He sees you lying on your mat, and he says, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” He sees you surrounded by judgmental accusers and He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He who bore our sins in His body on the cross speaks the absolution that sets us free.
So beware of false prophets. Beware of anyone who suggests to you that you can cheerfully stay in your sin and yet enjoy God’s grace. And also beware of false prophets who turn the gospel into a new law as if God is willing to forgive you and be gracious to you, but first you must do your part and earn it. Don’t listen to them. Listen to the Gospel. For the Gospel is God telling you that for the sake of the obedience and suffering of Jesus all your sins are forgiven. Jesus does it all. He calls you to repentance, faith, and a holy life through His atoning blood and the gift of His Holy Spirit. This faith is more precious than all our worldly wealth – for it’s counted to you as righteousness.
So let us all go to where the true riches are found. To the altar, to the cross, to the good tree, on which hung the salvation of the world. For the cross, the holy cross of Jesus, is that good tree bearing good fruit – the body and blood of Him who has loved you, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: In God My Faithful God LSB #745
1 In God, my faithful God,
I trust when dark my road;
Great woes may overtake me,
Yet He will not forsake me.
My troubles He can alter;
His hand lets nothing falter.
2 My sins fill me with care,
Yet I will not despair.
I build on Christ, who loves me;
From this rock nothing moves me.
To Him I will surrender,
To Him, my soul's defender.
3 If death my portion be,
It brings great gain to me;
It speeds my life's endeavor
To live with Christ forever.
He gives me joy in sorrow,
Come death now or tomorrow.
4 O Jesus Christ, my Lord,
So meek in deed and word,
You suffered death to save us
Because Your love would have us
Be heirs of heav'nly gladness
When ends this life of sadness.
5 "So be it," then, I say
With all my heart each day.
Dear Lord, we all adore You,
We sing for joy before You.
Guide us while here we wander
Until we praise You yonder.