Watch Out for False Prophets
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Again, I give thanks for you who have gathered today to encourage one another in the faith, whether there be few of you or many.
Consider for just a few moments the Gospel for the eighth Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 7:15-23, printed on the insert for today.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 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!’
How fitting that you have preferred to gather today as Christians without any pastor present, rather than to listen to some radio or television preacher, rather than to go to one of the churches down the road, where you can expect false doctrine to be taught. That’s part of listening to Jesus, who says in the Gospel, “Beware of false prophets.”
Christ has given us a responsibility, a responsibility to judge the one—anyone! —who claims to bring God’s Word to you. And you are to judge him, not by how he looks or by his sense of humor or his demeanor or his eloquence, but by the doctrine—the teaching—that he brings to you and preaches to you. For, Jesus says, there will be many false prophets in the last days and they will deceive many. So “Beware!” Jesus says.
Beware, because the nature of a false prophet is to appear to be a true prophet. The nature of a false prophet is to come dressed, not like a dangerous wolf, but like a harmless sheep. By their looks you will not know them. By the name “Christian” or even “Lutheran” you will not know them. By their fruits you will know them.
Their “fruits” is not a reference to how nice they are or how many outwardly good deeds they do. Their fruits are the teachings they bring forth. And if you are to judge them by their teachings, then the only way you can possibly carry out this commandment of Jesus is to know God’s Word for yourself, to hear it, to study it, to wrestle with it, and to then compare it, in context, with a preacher’s preaching.
What? You haven’t read the whole Bible? Well, what’s stopping you? You don’t understand everything the Bible says? Neither do I, as a sinful human being. But what are you doing about it? You don’t understand everything the Bible says? That is perfectly understandable. What is not understandable is that any Christian should then conclude, “Since I don’t understand everything the Bible says, I will be content with whatever I do know, right now, and I will not bother learning anything beyond that.”
Let that not be your response to Jesus’ words in the Gospel. He cares for you too much to let the wolf deceive you. He loves you too much to let you follow after a lie. In His grace, He has given you the truth. His Word is truth! And you’re NOT on your own to figure it out. He gives His Holy Spirit with that Word and in that Word to teach you and to build you up in the truth.
All of Holy Scripture is true, and anything that disagrees with Holy Scripture is false. The center of the truth is this, that all have sinned against God and earned for themselves His wrath and punishment, but that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, was obedient unto death, even the death of a cross, that He suffered for all sins and was raised from the dead to be our Savior, to rescue sinners from sin, from death and from the devil’s grip, so that whoever repents and flees to Him in faith receives forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. All of Holy Scripture teaches that truth, points to that truth, revolves around that truth, which is why the devil seeks to poison the well of Holy Scripture, changing it here, modifying it there, undermining its teaching at every possible place through the teachings of false prophets who bear the name “Christian” or even “Lutheran,” but who add to, subtract from, or change some point of Christ’s doctrine.
“But they talk about Jesus! Some do miracles! They all quote from the Bible!” So what? As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
As Jesus says, many who call Him “Lord” and who do miracles in His name will be disowned by Him on the last day and shut out of His kingdom forever. What makes someone a true prophet is not calling himself a Christian. It’s continuing in Jesus’ Word—all of it.
You have that Word. It has been proclaimed to you and you have confessed it. You have confessed it again this morning in the words of the Small Catechism. Use the Catechism! Use it to keep yourself grounded in the truth so that you know how to recognize error and those who would preach falsehood to you.
Next week, if the Lord is willing, I will see all of you face to face and continue to bring God’s Word to you. And as I do, I expect you to trust me as your pastor, but not blindly. Test my words, too, against the Scriptures and against the Lutheran confession of faith that we have all confessed to be true. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.