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wolves in sheep's clothing

Matthew 7:15-23

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Eighth Sunday after Trinity
St. Paul's Lutheran Church  
Wellston, Oklahoma

Sun, Jul 29, 2012 

My beloved flock, heed my stern warning to you: Beware and avoid false teachers that come in sheep's clothing.

Now you may ask, How can a wolf in sheep's clothing fool anybody?  It seems like a very clumsy disguise.  Who would ever mistake a wolf wrapped in sheepskin for a real sheep?

The answer is, sheep would make that mistake.  Sheep are not the mensa candidates of the animal kingdom.  But I am not really talking about dumb beasts - I am talking about us.  We are spiritually dumb beasts.  We have extremely poor discernment in spiritual matters, because our feelings so easily lead us astray.

We feel like a preacher is good if he feels soft and warm - but that could be the sheep's clothing on a wolf.  Wool can feel nice and comfortable.  A preacher can feel pleasant to us.  But that does not make him a true preacher.

Therefore, do not trust the warmth and softness of your preacher (even if he happens to be a true preacher).  That is nothing in which to put your trust.  A true preacher will not always feel soft.  A wool-wrapped wolf may feel so soft and warm that he could devour you long before you know anything is wrong.

Likewise, when Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits," He did not mean that we should judge preachers by whether they do good works or whether they sin.  That is to judge a wolf by how soft and warm it seems.  As Doctor Luther said, "One can know them to some extent by open sins, yet this judgment is deceptive, for Christians also fall. ... The unbelievers often appear far more excellent in their works than believers."

If a Teacher of the Word is a sinner, then you know that he is human.  You do not know whether he is a true teacher or not.  You have to judge his doctrine.  Does he teach the true faith purely?  That is the only way to know.

This requires maturity and knowledge.  You cannot simply hear the man mention the name of Jesus and hear that he is preaching from a text of Scripture.  If a man gives lip service to Christ, that proves nothing.  As Christ said, not everyone who says to Him, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom.

The real question is, do these other preachers uphold Scripture?  Do they uphold the salvation given in Baptism?  Do they uphold the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper?  Do they demand good works that save, such as decisions, giving your life to Jesus, sinners' prayers, penances, etc.?  These are works of lawlessness, because they do not flow from the will of God, but from the commandments of men.

The fruits of such teaching are rotten and decayed.  You would not want putrid, moldy fruit.  But that is what false teachers produce in themselves and their people.  Only the pure Gospel creates pure fruit.  A false gospel produces false fruit, because a false gospel is no gospel at all.

There is also the opposite danger to watch out for - do not reject a true preacher, thinking that he is a wolf.  This is just as deadly an error, since Jesus said to His disciples, "He who rejects you rejects Me."  To reject a true preacher is to reject the One who sent him.  So we must be extremely cautious.

If your shepherd feels rough and unloving, that may be because he preaches the Law in its full sternness.  Or if he feels sinful, that is because he is sinful.  What preacher isn't?

But the true fruit is to give glory to Christ by preaching the pure Gospel with no works.  Only the true Gospel gives all the glory to God.  The true fruit is to confess Christ purely in His Word and Sacraments.  The true fruit is to point to Christ crucified, not to endlessly point to good works while the Cross gets only a brief mention in the sermon.

True fruits are only from the Tree of Life upon which the Son of Man was hung.  Only where blood and water poured from our Savior's side can true fruit be nurtured.  Our twisted, unclean nature makes all our good works into filthy rags.  But Christ cleanses us and declares us clean.  His Blood washes away the scum and muck of our old Adam from our fruits, so that they are pure and beautiful in the eyes of the Father.  Only from those who are found in Christ can good works be found.

The poor discernment of our sheep minds cannot tell the difference between good works and bad.  We are likely to think highly of the fruits that appear glorious or feel good to us.  As Eve chose the fruit that looked desirable, so we would always choose the evil that appeared enticing.  Like her, we would always choose the fruits that lead to death.

But Christ deliberately chose death.  He allowed all the rot and decay of our sinfulness to fall upon His poor, tortured Body on the Cross.  For when our twisted discernment chose death, He took that same death upon Himself.

So we, who in our flesh are as spiritually dumb as sheep yet as destructive as wolves, we have been declared righteous in Christ.  He has clothed us with His image, the image of the perfect Lamb of God.  We are now dressed in the holy Lamb's clothing.  Yet this is not deception, but it is the wisdom of God and the righteousness of God.  Christ crucified has become our life and our holiness.

So we are known by God.  He calls us by name.  He watches over us and protects us from the evil wolves by His precious Word and Sacraments.

May He keep you in this faith so that you do not throw away this precious Gospel.  May His Spirit bind you tightly to His Cross, so that you do not abandon it to seek what looks good or feels good.

In the Name of this crucified Lamb, in whom we live.  Amen.

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