This is the Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity -- August 10, 2014 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Matthew 7:15-23

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity                                                                                                                                                                                                     08/10/14

The Four Most Horrible Words

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The four most horrible words in all of human history are to be spoken by Jesus at the final judgment. He will say to some, I never knew you! No more horrible words can ever be spoken, for these words mean eternal destruction and damnation for those who called themselves “Christians” and called Jesus “Lord.”

You want to be sure that you are not among such as these. Jesus said that not everyone who said to Him, “Lord, Lord!” would enter the kingdom of heaven. Many – not just a few, but many will claim to be confessing Christ, serving Him, doing miracles in His name, preaching Him, and yet will hear those four most horrible words in all of human history spoken to them.

What is the difference? How do we avoid that pitfall and deadly danger? Jesus said that the ones who enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do the will of [His] Father who is in heaven. Now that begins to sound like works, doesn’t it? That begins to sound like what you do in this life will make all the difference. If you confess Christ but do not walk the walk, as they say, you will not enter eternal life. That conclusion, however appealing to our human reason is absolutely false!

Ask yourself, “what is the will of our heavenly Father?” Is it not best expressed in the First Commandment, the commandment which we must keep before we can keep any other, and which we will keep if we keep any other? And what is the First Commandment? Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. And what does that mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It means faith. It means that you know who God is and love Him and trust in Him first and last and always and in all needs and circumstances. That is faith.

But it is not just my opinion of the matter that says so. Look at where Jesus puts this exhortation – immediately following the section of warning about false prophets. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Jesus began this section of warning by first commanding us to beware of false prophets – what we might call false teachers today. He said that they would come in sheep’s clothing. Since all of God’s people are called “sheep”, and we are “the flock of the Lord”, and He calls Himself the Good Shepherd, the suggestion that they will come to us in sheep’s clothing means that they will look to us like fellow-Christians – but they will not be. Inwardly they are blood-thirsty and destructive wolves predators that prey on the sheep of the flock of God.

And Jesus holds you responsible to see to it that you are not made their prey. You are to watch out for them. And how can you tell who they are? Jesus said, You will know them by their fruits. So all you need to do is look at their fruits.

But what are their fruits? Are we talking about their deeds? NO! If we want deed, behaviors, and actions as fruits, we look to actors. If we want music as a fruit, we go to singers and musicians. But if you are going to judge the fruit of a teacher, you must look at their teachings! Remember, Jesus said that they would look like good Christians!

And don’t false teachers look good? They clothe themselves in the appearance of righteousness and piety. They are the ones who speak so much of holiness of life, of walking the walk and talking the talk. They preach rules and principles of life that sound so good and appeal to our flesh. They are the models of piety and personal character. They look so good and sound so sincere, how can they be anything but righteous and holy and true?

But Jesus says that we will know them by their fruits. And their fruits are their teachings. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. You have to look at their teachings. A faithful teacher will teach the truth, faithfully. He is the good tree. A false teacher will lead you to hell. That part of the Gospel lesson which says, Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ reminds us that these false teachers, these wolves in sheep’s clothing, will also be among the lost – and may, in fact, be quite sincere – just dead wrong.

But when Jesus tells us that a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit, He is telling us that once we have identified a teacher as one who teaches falsely in any regard, we must flee from them and never trust them at all. Jesus didn’t say that it was not a good idea to hang around them, or that they might be dangerous, but you might be okay – He said that a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. And He commanded you to Beware!

Now, I know that some of you think that it is not necessary to be in Bible Study. Some of you may not particularly care who the preacher is, or what he says. You may listen to so-called “Christian” radio or TV and enjoy the preaching of some of those preachers, even when they are clearly not Lutheran. You may come to church for something other than the Word proclaimed and the Sacrament distributed. You may come for some other reason. This text warns you that such an attitude is not Christian, and that many – not a few or just some, but many will not enter eternal life who fully anticipate they are going there. They will be amazed, and they will stand before the Lord and say, “Now wait a minute, Lord. I was Your child. I witnessed. I did the good works. I went to church.” Jesus even says that some will say that they cast out demons and performed miracles in His name. In short, they will tell Jesus that they belong among the saved, among His people, and they will claim a place in His body and in His bride – and yet Jesus will level them with the four most horrible wordsI never knew you!

And then He will assign them their place among the damned, and send them away to that outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS. And the lawlessness that they will have practiced is that they did not fear God as God – or love Him as God – or trust in Him, but they trusted in themselves and their own wisdom, choosing to follow the wisdom of their flesh, rather than the Word of God. They will be guilty of not listening to Jesus’ warning, and not testing the prophets and not checking their fruits.

A false teacher cannot teach you the truth. It seems reasonable and very compassionate to say that just because he or she has this or that doctrine wrong, doesn’t spoil the fact that they are fine preachers and good teachers. Jesus disagrees. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? If you want false doctrine, a false teacher will do just fine. If you don’t care whether it is false or true, any teacher will be as good as the next. But if you want the truth, you must cling to those who teach the truth faithfully, and flee from those who are careless or dishonest with God’s Word -- those who are inwardly ravenous wolves.

The truth is the Gospel. Jesus is your Hope and Salvation. He has won forgiveness and life for you by dying in your place on the cross. It is what Jesus has accomplished, and not how you behave, that will save you. It is trusting the promises of God, and not hoping that you are good enough, that will receive the promises of resurrection to life everlasting and eternal glory.

Not that your conduct doesn’t matter – it always matters. It just doesn’t save. You cannot hope to earn heaven, or be good enough to please God, or do everything right and go to the right church and figure that those things will have to be enough. They are not.

You need to know the truth – about your sin, and your wickedness, and about God’s love and how He rescued you – and then you need to rest all your hopes on Him. When you do it will make you different. But the difference will be a difference of the heart that shows through in the life, not a change built on the hope that you will measure up in the final accounting.

Faith – trusting in God – receives the grace and the blessings of God. Jesus has accomplished all that you need accomplished. And that faith must be built on the truth if it is to be saving.

Believing something false –

trusting in a Jesus that does not exist and never has existed –

who does not care about who you are or how you live,

or hoping in a God who demands your righteousness as a pre-condition of your forgiveness,

or holding to a God who has no clear identity, and who does not care if you know who He really is –

 believing anything which is not in accord with the revelation of God in Scripture is not saving faith.

How can you know? How can you be sure? You must study. Your opinion of truth is not important. Truth is. The false prophet wants you to follow him. It is his fame, or it is his fortune, or it is simply his living that he seeks to extort from you, and in the process he will destroy you, and add you to the number of those who will hear Jesus speak those four most horrible words to them. The only way to tell which is what is to look at the fruits of the teacher – examine and judge his teachings in the light of the Word of God.

That is why we are Lutherans. We have examined and judged the Lutheran Fathers to be faithful, and their writings, our confessions, to be clear and faithful and accurate expositions of the Scriptures. That means that when there is a debate over what a passage means, or two doctrines are contrasted by teachers, we have found that the Lutheran Fathers have faithfully and truthfully explained and interpreted the Scriptures. We don’t go on to invent our own interpretations which contradict theirs – we study the Scriptures, and we answer our questions about “What does this mean?” by seeking the Lutheran Confessors’ wisdom as part of our study – and we let them explain why they say what they say in the light of other Scripture passages.

When we have learned that, we compare our present day teachers to that standard. If they say the same thing, we trust them – but if they fail to teach us the truth of Scripture, or they have something new and different from God’s Word, we mark them as those rotten trees which cannot produce good fruit, and we avoid them as the ravenous wolves that they are.

Now, what if you don’t agree with all those Lutheran Fathers, once you have studied them and the Scriptures? Then you must confess that you are not Lutheran, and you should go to that church where they teach what you do believe. If you cannot accept and do not believe that what we Lutherans teach is faithfully God’s Word, then you must mark us as those who are rotten trees and ravenous wolves. And you must flee from us and beware of us.

But frankly, I don’t expect that to happen. God’s Word is powerful and effective and clear. Where it speaks, God’s people hear His voice and believe. In all my years of ministry, I have never had anyone who accepted the Word of God who found the Lutheran Confession to be false, once they studied them.

I have known those who would not study them.

I have known those who were convinced without and before they opened the book.

But I have never known anyone who listened to God’s Word who found the Lutheran teachings to be contrary to God’s Word.

So, Jesus tells you to Beware! He sets the standard before you – His Word and His truth. He tells you to avoid those who teach contrary to His Word, and He warns you that those who do not listen to His warning, and take heed from it, will be forced to listen to the four most horrible words of all of human history – horrible when spoken to you by Christ for what they mean for eternity, I never knew you!

God in His grace bless and keep, guide and preserve you and grant that you never hear those words from Jesus, but rather, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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