Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the eighth Sunday after Trinity 8/2/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity8 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the eighth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
This warning from Jesus concerning false prophets comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is first major discourse in Matthew’s Gospel. This position makes it not only a warning, then, but also, a seal pressed onto His own preached Word.
Jesus is wrapping up everything He has just said: the Beatitudes; being Salt and Light in the world; His Coming to Fulfill the Law; His teaching on Anger, Lust, Divorce, Oaths, Retaliation, and Loving Your Enemies; Giving to the Needy; The Lord’s Prayer; Fasting; Anxiety; Judging Others; and Entering by the Narrow Gate; all of it.
This is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Jesus the Christ, the Word of God, proclaiming the Word of God.
But beware. Beware false prophets. In the age of the New Testament, as we heard in Acts 20, this means false pastors; that is, pastors who teach falsely.
The look like sheep and come from among the sheep. They appear to be pious and kind. They have the look, the outward life, and the right education.
But they are not sheep. They are wolves in disguise. Jesus and St. Paul call them as much.
So, you should be every bit as wary of false prophets as sheep are of wolves. After all, there is only one reason that a wolf enters a sheep pen. And so, you should count them as a real danger.
But how will you know them? How will you identify them if they look exactly like sheep? Jesus says you will recognize them by their fruits.
English majors will accuse Jesus of mixing metaphors here; and they would have ground to do so. But it’s necessary in this case because the sheep/wolf metaphor has been exhausted. It’ll never be as easy as it is in the cartoons, where you can see the wolf’s legs and tail and teeth protruding from the sheep outfit. And yet, the evidence you need will be visible.
You will know false prophets, wolves, by their fruits. Much of the time in Scripture fruits are used as a reference for good works in general. But the nuance of this situation calls for a more specific understanding.
Jesus isn’t talking about any kind of fruit or any kind of good work, because Jesus isn’t talking about any kind of person. He’s talking about false teachers. The fruit, then, is their teaching. You will know a false teacher, a wolf, by false teaching.
It’s worthwhile to mention that Jesus isn’t talking about someone who makes a mistake. That’s a sheep who is in error and who needs correction. A wolf is teaching falsely and with intention. Like his master, he is prowling around seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) This is why Paul warns the elders in Ephesus as he does.
The problem is not so much that when he leaves someone will get mixed up, and come up with a poor analogy for the Trinity, or accidentally overemphasize the place of sanctification in the Christian life. Those are things sheep do because of their weaknesses.
St. Paul is warning them of wolves who will not spare the flock. They will open the Word of God and, like their master, they will twist God’s Word. By their imitation of the Good Shepherd’s voice, they will try to draw sheep away.
This is why it is so important that you continue to read the Scriptures. It’s why you learn the Small Catechism by heart. You need to be able to tell good fruit from bad fruit, sheep from wolves; and false prophets from true prophets.
You might think of it this way. You’re certainly aware that there are at least two schools of thought commenting on matters of public health in the midst of our present pandemic. The flashpoint this last week was over the renewed discussion of hydroxychloroquine. But you can add to that all the conflict over masks and lockdowns and vaccines. All along the way, everyone’s citing “the data,” as if the collective and unanimous “we” were 100% certain that there are data sets truly worthy of the definite article.
The drawback of such a polarizing and current illustration is that you may start thinking too much about it, or even what my opinion is on it. But that’s not the point all. The point is this:
If you had, from Jesus, a 100% no-kidding fact sheet, pulled from the Gospels, directly dealing with the novel coronavirus, how to avoid it; how to treat it; how to cure it; how to destroy it; wouldn’t you read it?
Wouldn’t you use it to preserve your life and the lives of others? Wouldn’t you use it to separate true doctors from quacks? Of course you would. Your life is important to you and to others.
So, how much more should you be concerned with your eternal life? How much more should you be attentive to the Word that rightly separates False Prophets from True prophets? How much more should you cling to the Word that kills and makes alive; that shows forth sin and grace and Law and Gospel; that puts Christ crucified before your eyes?
I have no idea how long COVID-19 will last. The spiciest memes suggest we are only in the first decade. They mean that to be humor, but the Bubonic Plague is still around, so who knows?
Regardless, false prophets will remain to the last day. On that day, as Jesus says, they will make an appeal to their works and not to faith in Christ. To prove their worthiness, they will point to their own lives and all they have done. What they won’t do is point to His life, His death, and His resurrection for them.
When Christ returns as Judge, they will claim that they deserve to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. This will be the only evidence necessary that they are strangers to Jesus and His Gospel.
Saying “Lord, Lord” is not sufficient for them, or me, or you; rather, the Kingdom is prepared for those who do the will of His Father. What is this will? Jesus Himself says:
For 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. John 6:40
The will of the Father is done already in you. In Baptism, Jesus has cemented Himself to you. There, God the Holy Spirit, by Water and the Word, created faith in you. This faith He sustains even now through the proclamation of the Word, through the faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper, and the communion of saints, who encourage you along the way. You are they who look now upon Jesus and believe in Him and have eternal life, and He will raise you up on the last day.