The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
“Jesus Tells His Christians to Judge”
Matthew 7: 15
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. St. Matthew 7: 15
The sheep have no right to judge the good shepherd. They are his sheep. They follow him; they don’t question his word. By speaking to them he gives them eternal life. His voice speaks to them the pure and saving truth. It protects them from the wolves that would, if they could, rip them apart and devour them. No sheep will judge his shepherd. He will listen to him and trust his word.
But the sheep must judge the preacher that the good shepherd sends to them. They must judge his teaching to ensure that he speaks the words of the good shepherd, who gave his life for his sheep.
“Beware of false prophets,” Jesus says. They “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” The sheep may not judge the good shepherd, but they must judge their own shepherd, the pastor Jesus sends to feed them the wholesome words of eternal life.
When the people stop judging the preaching of the preachers the church dies. God sends preachers to preach his Word. They don’t send themselves. They aren’t hired by the congregations they serve. Jesus sends them. He does not send them to share with the sheep their own opinions, wisdom, or spiritual insight. He doesn’t send them to manipulate the sheep into correct behavior by the application of effective methods of control. He sends them to preach his pure and saving gospel because that is the food the sheep need to remain spiritually healthy.
There is a false religion popular in the heartland of America in which we live. Call it the religion of niceness. It’s not nice to judge the teaching of your pastor. It’s not nice to judge the teaching of other pastors in the community. It’s not nice to judge period. So don’t stand in judgment of what the preachers preach. We all have the right to our own opinions. It’s not nice to judge. So say the heralds of the all-American popular religion.
To which Jesus says, No! You must judge. Beware! If you refuse to judge the preacher’s preaching, the devil will send you a preacher to draw you away from Christ so that he can murder your soul. He’s an expert at doing just that.
Not only must the laity judge their pastors’ teaching to be sure that it is sound, the preachers are to judge the teaching of other preachers so that they can warn the sheep of threats to their souls. God calls the pastor to watch over the ﬂock. He cannot feed the ﬂock without pointing out to them the false teachings swirling around them that can attack and destroy their Christian faith. Your pastor’s job is to point out to you the false teachings of preachers. He must identify both false teaching and false teachers, whether or not his warnings are welcomed. It’s not nice to do, but Jesus says to do it.
We are living in a time of doctrinal indifference. People don’t care about pure doctrine. Maybe they don’t think that what God teaches in the Bible can be known. Maybe they don’t think that teaching and believing what God teaches matters as much living a good life. Maybe they’re afraid to take a stand on biblical teaching because they will have to pay a social price. Maybe their children or spouse or close friends belong to churches that teach contrary to God’s Word and they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with them. Whatever the reason, we are living at a time of doctrinal indifference. So many other things are regarded as more important that the pure teaching of God’s word.
Jesus is the One who teaches us to beware of false prophets. This isn’t some uptight old Lutheran reactionary who’s all hung up on doctrine and has no genuine love living in his heart! No, this is he who is love incarnate. Does anyone love you as much as he who willingly took all of your sin upon himself to suffer and die for you? Look at his love! He willingly submitted to his Father’s will and he drink the cup of divine anger against all sinners. He submitted to your punishment, bearing it in himself. And as all of the sin of all of the sinners of all time was reckoned to him — so that, in St Paul’s words, he was “made to be sin for us” — his love for his Father and his love for you never wavered. He loves you!
Who will accuse Jesus of a lack of love? Who would dare to say that his deeds or words or feelings of love can compare with the love Christ displayed on Calvary? Look at the love of God in Christ. He who suffered for you, gained forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for you, and gives you these treasures to you in his Word, also says to you, right before he spoke the words of our text:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difﬁcult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who ﬁnd it. (Matthew 7: 13-24)
The narrow gate is not your adherence to rules of human manufacture, as if by denying yourself this pleasure or performing that duty you will squeeze your way into eternal fellowship with God. No! Jesus is the narrow gate. Jesus said:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus is the One who warns us of false prophets. Do you believe in Jesus? Do you accept what he says as true? Then take to heart what he says:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
Here are four popular errors the false prophets teach. Beware of these teachings! They are assaults against your soul.
The ﬁrst and deadliest error of the false prophets is the teaching of salvation by works. They teach that you become righteous by doing righteous things. The teaching of salvation by works is to attack Jesus Christ who alone is our righteousness before God and for whose sake God freely forgives us sinners and reckons us to be righteous. All forms of works righteousness are poison to the soul. If you trust in your own obedience, your own decision, your own submission to God, your own surrendering to Jesus, your own prayers, your own struggles, or anything else for your salvation than Jesus Christ — his holy obedience and suffering for you — then your faith rests on sinking sand and cannot save you.
The second error of the false prophets is the attack on the Bible, from the left and from the right. The attack from the left questions that everything the Bible says is necessarily so. These false prophets may call the Bible the word of God, but then they proceed to reject all sorts of things the Bible says. They teach that we may have evolved from the animals and that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth and that some of the miracles recorded in the Bible were poetic license, and not literal events. They claim that there are many errors of fact in the Bible, because, after all, fallible men wrote it. To deny that the Bible is entirely truthful in all that it asserts and to teach that the Bible contains errors on any matter at all is false doctrine that is poison to the soul. Once the Bible has errors, you cannot trust what it says.
The attack on the Bible from the right claims that the Bible is true, but it isn’t clear in what it teaches so you need someone to tell you what the Bible really means. Whether a pope, a prophet, a priest, a magisterium, or a holy tradition, you need another authority beyond the Bible because without that other authority you cannot know what the Bible means. In this Way the Bible is stolen away from the people and they cannot judge the preachers they hear because they cannot know what the Bible teaches by reading the Bible. It’s unclear. They must rely on another authority instead. This renders the Bible a closed book.
The third attack of the false prophets parades itself in sheep’s clothing by claiming to believe in grace, while denying what the Bible says about how God gives his grace to us. God forgives us and ﬁlls us with the Holy Spirit in baptism, but they deny this is so, saying that baptism is just a symbol of our faith in God. God forgives us through the words of absolution spoken by the pastor, but they deny this is so, arguing that no man can forgive sins. God gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the Lord’s Supper, but they deny this, claiming that it isn’t even the body and blood of Jesus, and it only reminds us of Christ, but doesn’t actually provide us with Christ’s forgiveness and salvation.
The fourth attack of the false prophets uses the gospel to deny the law. These false prophets say some good things. They say that God is gracious to us for Christ’s sake; that God forgives freely by his grace; that our good works cannot help save us; and that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Then they use this precious gospel to deny God’s law. They say that since God is gracious, we mustn’t say that those who live in sin without repentance are lost. The sheep’s clothing of these false prophets is their many words about God’s grace, forgiveness, love, tolerance, and such. Then they teach lies.
They say that two men may engage in sexual intimacy with each other and even marry each other and that two women may do the same as long as they are committed to this relationship. When we say this is sin, they say, well we are all sinners, and so we may not judge. In the name of grace, sinners are taught to continue in sin and not repent. They deny the need for repentance. They teach a false view of faith, claiming that it can live with openly unrepentant sin. But it can’t. In the name of love for people trapped by sin they leave them trapped and consign them to darnnation. There is no faith without repentance. Without faith we cannot receive the salvation that God freely gives us.
Attacking the gospel of God’s pure grace and teaching salvation by works; questioning the truthfulness or clarity of the Bible; denying that God gives us salvation in his sacraments; teaching that sinners need not repent of their sins; all of these errors are dressed up in Christian sounding words. Those who teach these destructive teachings often look like pious Christians. These teachings attack faith. When they capture your loyalty, you are in spiritual danger. This is why your Lord Jesus, who loves you, warns you today: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Amen