In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Jesus warns us of false prophets. These wolves in sheep’s clothing are all around us. But these wolves aren’t radical Islam or Jehovah’s Witnesses or even militant atheists. Those wolves are obvious. Their teaching is clearly and forcefully at odds with what Scripture teaches. What Jesus warns us about are people who put on vestments and stand in pulpits on Sunday mornings. He’s not telling you to be suspicious of your Pastor, but reminding you that as a Christian you are expected to know what Scripture says. That’s why, time and time again, in many and various ways Scripture tells you to be on guard, to be ready to defend your faith, to test the spirits who preach because while your Pastor may be godly and may tell the truth, not all of them do and for the sake of your faith and eternal life you must be on guard so their lies and deceptions do not lead you astray.
Though false teaching is increasing at an alarming rate in these last days as we draw closer to the Last Day, something Jesus Himself promised would happen, false prophets are nothing new. Already in the third chapter of Genesis the first false prophet and the ruler of all the rest to come slithered onto the scene. He twisted the Word of God and led Adam and Eve into sin, into death. We look at Adam and Eve, mockingly snort, and say “Didn’t a talking snake give it away?” Satan didn’t come wearing a sign that said “false teacher” or put on an arrogant show. He came in sheep’s clothing, that is, speaking the Word of God, albeit a twisted word. He came to Adam and Eve as they obeyed God’s command not to eat and asked, “Did God really say…?” The question seemed innocent enough, like he just needed clarification because he didn’t hear it correctly the first time. But soon he played on every man’s desire to have it all. Promising God-like powers, he convinced our first parents to eat, to disobey God. In them, in us, is seen the fruits of wolves in sheep’s clothing: sin and death.
But listening to false prophets is so much more fun! The Prophet Jeremiah is the last man anyone would invite to a party. While all the prophets of Baal went around sharing dreams of peace and visions of prosperity, Jeremiah came in, speaking the Word of the Lord: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.’” Jeremiah was Called by God to a stiff-necked, unrepentant people. But He was the one whom God sent to preach His Law to them that they might turn their hearts, break their pride, and repent so the Lord could forgive their sins. But they didn’t listen. Instead they preferred the false news, the false gospel of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
So how do we identify these false prophets, how do we escape their parade and outward show? Jesus tells us to look at their fruits. But fruits are not the same as good works. Works can appear good, even when done without faith. That is why Jesus warns us of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Good works are merely the wooly appearance. Trying to judge by the wool is like living according to the flesh—you will die. No amount of wool can change the wolf into a sheep, because the sharp, destroying teeth are still there. The fruits we are to examine is what comes as a result of the teaching. Does their teaching confirm you in your sin, telling you that God doesn’t care what you do or that He changes His rules to conform to societal norms, or does it call you to repentance, showing you the life that is pleasing to God, and pointing to the forgiveness of sins won for you by Jesus Christ on the cross and given in the Sacraments? What you want to do after you hear the preaching tells you a lot about the doctrine of the preacher.
But we still like to go after the wolves. They look harmless, they say nice things, and can give flashy signs. Like the people of Israel, we prefer a present prosperity over the damnation of the Law. We’d rather feel empowered, feel good about ourselves, than to hear a call to repentance. Repentance is uncomfortable because it means we have to come face-to-face with our reality. We don’t think and do always such things as are right. We do not live according to God’s will. We don’t want to hear of the double condemnation we deserve. For our sin, not only should we be cut down, cut off from God, but we should also be thrown into the fire.
How then, shall you be saved from this cutting off, from this consuming fire? You are saved by the good fruit brought by the true Prophets of God. The good fruit borne by God’s Prophets, by His Pastors, is not their fruit at all. Rather, the good fruit is Christ—Christ crucified, freely giving forgiveness of sins and faith, making the Kingdom of Heaven yours.
The Kingdom is yours because from the beginning God has planned for your salvation; He desires that no one be lost eternally. He knew that you would wander off, following the disguised wolf, the prince of this world. So He sent His Word, His Son, Jesus Christ, to find you, to restore you. He found you trapped by the rocks of sin and filled with its impurities. The Incarnate Word is the Hammer which breaks the rock of sin and a Fire to consume the impurities. But the only reason that Jesus can do these saving works for you is because first He was broken by the hammer, nailed to the wood of the Cross. He was consumed by the fire of God’s wrath, quenching it so that there is none left for you. As the hammer broke your Rock of Refuge, so was your sin broken. As the fire consumed the Sacrifice, so was your sin wholly consumed and is no more.
These are the works of God, the will of the Father: that Jesus Christ drink the cup of wrath, spill His own Blood at Calvary, and die for your sin and for the sin of the world. This Seed of the Woman, planted in the tomb has sprung forth. He is the Vine and by your Baptism you are grafted into Him. Though you were a bad tree, now grafted onto the life-giving Vine and into His saving Works—His faith, His submission, His death—you are a good tree. His life supplies yours.
Here in this Divine Service does that Lifeblood of the Christ again course through your veins, feeding you in Holy Absolution, the Word, the Body and Blood. This Lifeblood replaces your own, making you a son of God, filling you with the Spirit of Adoption, which Spirit bears witness that you are not only a child of God, but a joint heir with Christ. And because you are a joint heir with Christ, not only have you suffered with Him, but you will also be glorified together.
Until you are lead out of death to life by the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul, wolves in sheep’s clothing will still prowl, still attempt to toss the Church of Christ to and fro. But there is nothing for you to fear, dearly beloved child of God. Jesus Christ is your salvation. By Him and His Holy Spirit you are given the faith and courage to withstand the assaults of the devil and his false prophets. You will never be forsaken, for He has promised to send to you His true Prophets who bring you Christ’s Word, His gracious and loving invitation. They invite you to taste and see that the Lord is good. So come, receive the Christ who has forgiven you all your sins.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).