St 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.“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 will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
You are present here, this morning, because you are traveling somewhere. You aren’t in your final destination; you are on your way to God’s kingdom. In your Baptism, or in your hearing of God’s powerful Word, you were given faith by the Holy Spirit to know the true God. You anticipate heaven, then, at the end of this life.
But Jesus says in our text, that some who see themselves on that same course are really not on it; they are deceived. Since this is God’s world, in examining this text this morning, we are meant to be reminded of just how He intends to save people from having to suffer the just penalty for their sins (there isn’t any other way to be saved than God’s way). People can’t will it to be some other way. [Question:] What brings about the healthy tree that bears good fruit? What is the will of the Father that enables one to enter into His kingdom? There are very clear answers to these questions in the Scriptures. We need not guess at them.
There are deceivers who tell people lies about how to enter God’s kingdom; Jesus is saying that at the beginning of our text. He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Comparing them to ravenous wolves means they do actual harm. The danger is real, of them causing someone eternal harm. They are presenting themselves as if they are leading a person in the truth and toward heaven but they are really leading away from the truth and toward hell (they might not even be aware that they’re doing it - the devil uses well-intentioned people in this way).
People can’t write their own spiritual truth. The truth about God, and our relationship to Him doesn’t come out of someone’s imagination. The words, “I think…” or “It seems to me that…” should never be the beginning of a discourse on spiritual truth. You could talk about politics in that way, or about planting vegetables, but not Spiritual truth. What someone other than God thinks about spiritual things doesn’t have the same weight as what St. Peter proclaims Scripture to be, for instance. He says, We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16). He was talking, there, about having seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain - one of the clearest proofs that Jesus is God as well as man, and therefore, the only one capable of saving us. People’s musings about spiritual truth would never have authority like Scripture, of which St. Paul writes: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for receiving God’s Word from Him - as he says, not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The one who speaks God’s Word from Scripture is a teacher of spiritual truth; the one who speaks something other than that is a false prophet, of whom Jesus says to beware.
He is saying in our text that the end of someone giving their own fantasies as spiritual truth, is God telling people at the gate of heaven, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ People feel free to imagine what they will about God; but it doesn’t change who He is, and it doesn’t change peoples’ need when it comes to Him. Many who have thought that they were heaven bound, having imagined for themselves an alternative path from the one in Scripture; have found that they were deceived.
You need not worry that you have been deceived, so long as your attention is on the Holy Scriptures. Lift up your hearts unto God! Our Absolution states. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us, and has given His only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sins. The Father’s will that Jesus talks about in our text, is summarized pretty well in that statement. He hates our sins. His perfect justice makes it necessary that we be separated from our sins if we’re to be with Him. Also, those sins must be punished. So in mercy, He has given His only Son to die for us so that our sins are forgiven.
That is how the God Who made this world intends to save people from having to suffer the just penalty for their sins; He will save them through the blood of Jesus, Who was perfect for them, and Who paid their price. That eternal plan is declared in all its glory on the pages of Scripture.
Jesus warns us in our text, of false prophets, because they are a danger to us. So much of false prophecy today is aimed at separating us from simple faith in the Scriptures as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. So many believers have been talked out of this simple faith. They have been shamed out of believing the things about it that offend the world. They want the world’s approval, and have traded God’s approval for it. They don’t want people to shut them out of the world; so they have accepted being shut out of heaven. Jesus is saying in our text, don’t let it happen to you. Cling to the simple faith in the Scriptures that proclaim the true prophecy from God about salvation and eternal life.
Sometimes it is striking for us to hear St. Paul’s bold declaration: I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). We hear that, and we think, Why would anyone ever be ashamed of the Gospel? Why would anyone be ashamed about the news that Christ died for sinners, and that God’s grace is to be found in Him? It’s for everyone, after all. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). What is there to be ashamed of in that message? It’s the good news for everyone. But St. John tells us that from the very beginning people rejected this news of salvation to be found in God’s Son. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him (John 1:10).
There are various reasons people don’t want to know Jesus. In that same first chapter of John’s Gospel, he writes: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. According to the sinful nature that we all have, we tend to want to do things that God has forbidden in His Law. I’m sure that isn’t news to anyone here. Like children who hide their disobediences from their parents, we don’t want to have the light shining on us when we are determined in this way. We want to think that we are carrying on our sins in secret - even from God. Knowing Jesus means recognizing the reason He came into this world - to die for these sins that we protect. Just our own desire to keep on sinning can be what separates us from Jesus. We don’t always feel like hearing St. Paul’s exhortation in our epistle lesson: So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. We don’t always want to hear that - especially if, for some reason, we really think we’re justified in having our sin. People don’t want to know Jesus because they want to go on sinning.
And, as we said earlier, wanting the world’s approval is a very powerful temptation for us as well. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong about anything. When we cling to a simple faith in the Scriptures as God’s inspired and inerrant word, we are sometimes in a position of speaking to people (in a loving way) a truth that they don’t want to hear. We’re in a position of telling people that they are deceived, and that they’re in danger of being lost from the true God forever.
We aren’t unlike our Savior when we’re in this position. St. John records in the 8th chapter of his Gospel, an occasion when Jesus was having to tell proud Jews that being Abraham’s descendants was not going to save them, no matter how much they wanted it to be true. He was standing in front of them as God’s grace for them; they were rejecting Him, and therefore, also, the grace offered in Him. He couldn’t tell them that it was okay to agree to disagree, or that their opinion on the matter was valid as well. Had He done so, He would have been a false prophet leading them to hell instead of heaven.
He didn’t back down from them, even though He noted that they were trying to kill Him because of His proclamation of the truth. He even had to tell them the harsh words that they were following their father, the devil (John 8).
How difficult it is to be faithful to God’s Word in the face of the world’s opposition. How we have failed at it. How we have shrunk from this opposition. How we have allowed ourselves to be shamed because of our simple faith in the Scripture as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. How we have sat silent in situations in which we should have spoken up for the good of people who need to know the truth of how God intends to save people from having to suffer the just penalty for their sins.
We place ourselves on the mercy of our Savior, Jesus, Who never failed to make the good confession in the face of the world’s harshest treatment (1 Tim. 6:12-13). In clinging to Him, we are the healthy tree that bears good fruit (our own is rotten to the core - weak and shameful). Connected to Him we bear the good fruit. To be connected to Him in faith is to be doing the will of His Father who is in heaven. Nothing we could do on our own would be worth anything to Him. He has made us right before God. He is the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). He is the One Who says: This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
God grant us the wisdom to know the truth, and the strength to bear up under opposition to the truth, and loving hearts that boldly proclaim this truth for the good of everyone who hears. Amen.
Other texts for this Sunday:
Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.