Trinity 8 2018
University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.
These words come to us at the end of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Having taught his Christians about the kingdom of God, he now warns them about false doctrine. As such, this warning to guard against false prophets is for Christians, all disciples of Jesus. Elsewhere Scripture instructs pastors and preachers to guard their flock against false teaching, but here Jesus also expects each believer to guard against false prophets and realize the stakes. False teachers are not neutral, even if well-intentioned. They are ravenous wolves.
That Jesus considers the “fruit of a prophet” to be his doctrine and not his outward success is clear from what follows: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them,” (that is, believes them and responds accordingly) “will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Everyone must build on something. Everyone’s thinking starts on some fundamental premise. It’s either going to be the words out of Jesus’ mouth, or the words out of my own heart or someone else’s. Which will it be? Only Jesus’ word forgives sins. Only Jesus’ word defeats death. There is no course in the CU catalogue entitled, “Immortality 101: How to not die.” There is no “resurrection ward” in the hospital.
As St. Paul puts it: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
The sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. They are not led according to their own flesh and what it thinks. They do not lead their lives by what their heart says. The sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God speaks to them clearly, infallibly, and effectively through the Scriptures, and they hear it. He leads them and guides them through the Word wherever it is purely preached, taught, pondered, and sung. And by his grace he convinces them to believe it.
And yet, because in this life Christians still have the sinful flesh hanging around their necks and whispering in their ears, they must daily put to death the sayings of their flesh and its deeds and also contend with false prophets who would tempt them to find “god” within their hearts and not in the written words of the Holy Spirit.
Look: there will always be unbelievers who want to you renounce Christ¾be it the priests of Zeus or the priests of scientism dressed in their lab-white robes. But here Jesus is specifically warning you against false prophets who come to you in the church. They come because they are not sent. They take the teaching office for themselves and refuse the usual order. And they come to you—not to the heathen or the Muslims—but to you because they are in the church. As the saying goes: “When God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door.”
Jesus says that false prophets look the look outwardly and even have many impressive works. They come in sheep’s clothing. They do many Christian looking things. He says (Mark 13:22): “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” They even attach Jesus’ name to their teachings and works. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’”
But to speak and act in Jesus’ name is to speak and act according to his will. It is not praying “in Jesus’ name” simply because we tack that onto the end of the prayers like a lucky rabbit’s foot. It is not teaching in Jesus’ name simply because his name was mentioned. It is not acting in Jesus’ name just because you invoke it on your lips. A soldier might act in the name of his CO, but if he is not following orders then he will be court-martialed.
To speak and act in Jesus’ name is to speak and act according to his will. For “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The Father’s will is that you listen to the Son he has sent.
Jesus says: “Beware of false prophets.” As obvious as this seems, this means that there is such a thing as false doctrine. I suspect that people are reluctant to believe that any doctrine is false because they are hesitant to believe that any doctrine is true. The temptation is to think that doctrine is not real, not in the sense that gravity is “real” or the combustion engine is “real” or the shirt on your back is “real.”
Take, for example, the Eighth Commandment. Our reputations are very real to us. No one wants to find out that people are trashing him. No one wants to be told, “There are a bunch of people lying about what you think and slandering your reputation on the internet.” No one wants to find out that his views are being misrepresented or that people are invoking his name to sell lies. If someone persistently trashed your reputation, you would not be okay with it.
Well, how much more is that true of God. God does not want to be lied about. He does not want people to use his name as a cover up for their lies. Why is it that people see the problem with the first example but not with the latter? Why is it that the whole world can see that not all politicians teach the same thing, and yet they insist that all religions, or even all Christian confessions, teach the same thing? It is because for them politics is “real” but theology is not. It’s because deep down they don’t think that doctrine is true or real; or that you can really know for sure.
But Christians know God. 1 John 2: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we cherish His teachings. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not cherish His teachings, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever cherishes His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.”
To say or suspect that there is no such thing as false or true doctrine is to deny the Scriptures. As Jesus says to his opponents: “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Again he says: “The Scriptures cannot be broken,” and still again: “Thy word is truth.”
There is such a thing as false doctrine, and oddly enough, this is comforting. Because if there is such thing as false doctrine, then there is such a thing a true doctrine. This is the same argument Paul uses with the church in Corinth. While lamenting the divided state of Christianity even in the apostolic era, Paul draws comfort from those divisions, saying: “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” If there are factions and divided confessions within Christianity, then this means that there is a truth that divides. This means that there is a truth that matters and is real and is worth fighting for. Ps. 119:4: “Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.” Jude 3: “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
This is why so-called “nondenominational” (that is, non-confessional or non-committal) Christianity is a sham. It doesn’t really believe that doctrine is true. It props up it’s insecurity about this with outwardly-impressive worship “experiences” to make people feel like Christians instead of teaching them to know that they are Christians because “now baptism saves you.”
It is sin that there is false doctrine. It is sad that Christianity is a divided house. But the comfort is that this must be so because Christ is true, his sayings are real, and these things matter.
Your Jesus is true. His sacrificial death for you is true. His resurrection is true. His Supper is true. Your baptism is real. The eternal life he has prepared for you is real. His peace and joy are true. His doctrine is reality, and he warns you against false prophets because his love and concern for you is as real and true as the blood in his veins poured out for you.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.