The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Today’s lessons—all three of them—are very straightforward and to the point. There’s no mincing words. There’s no sugar-coating or dancing around the subject. It doesn’t take a doctorate in advanced theological studies to figure out what our Lord is teaching us. In fact, these three lessons are so straightforward and to the point that a sermonic explanation seems almost counter-productive. All I could do is mess it up if I tried to build on or elaborate on the simple theme of trusting in God above all things and shunning all false messages and false prophets.
Just consider what Jesus says about being on guard against false prophets and their false and deadly messages. “You will recognize them by their fruits.” As faithful Christians this makes perfect sense to us. We know what Jesus means here with this litmus test of sorts. It’s the same litmus test that our Lutheran forefathers would put forward 1500 years later, and it’s the same litmus test you hear me put before you week in and week out. Is the Word rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered? Do you hear the full truth of God’s Law and Gospel? Are the fruits of repentant faith alone in God’s grace alone because of the all-redeeming work and person of Jesus Christ alone held up as the only way that one is justified? Are all manners of works-righteousness left out of the discussion when it comes to the doctrine of justification and the reality of our salvation? Are the sacraments of Christ taught and administered in accordance with Christ’s Word and command? Are they taught for what Christ says they are and do, or are they taught for what man says they symbolize? It all makes perfect sense. It’s all very easy to understand. If the Word is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered, praise God! If this is not the case, BEWARE, for this is deadly dangerous territory. This is where wolves in sheep’s clothing dwell. This is where not even Jesus recognizes you, despite all the powerful, earth-shaking, awe-inspiring “good” you do using His name.
But…maybe that is something worth spending a little time on today. It is all so easy…in theory. We know all of this stuff…in theory, but actually putting it into practice is a whole other thing, isn’t it? Would you know a false prophet when you met one? More importantly, would you know enough to stay clear of the false prophet? The danger of listening to and following after false prophets goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when our first parents turned a deaf ear to God and instead followed the sweet-sounding false promises of glory and wisdom offered up from a demonic serpent. It’s been all downhill ever since!
I say this only because it is still so easy for little lambs with the best intentions to be led astray into deadly lies and darkness and deceit. It still happens, and it happens all the time. So often we judge by what we see, but we fail to judge by what we hear (or don’t hear). We allow for a very dangerous disconnect between that which entices our eyes and that which fills our ears. So often we discern based solely on the fruits we want to see rather than the fruits that true repentant righteousness rightly bears. We allow ourselves to be deceived. We fall prey to false righteousness and false prophecy, sometimes willfully. “All that glitters is not gold,” and yet like moths to a flame or fish to a jig, we go after the glittery, exciting fruits of worldly success and comfort and power and fun, never listening to what’s being said (or not said). So often we bite hook, line, and sinker on that which not only promises us, but may actually give us the results we’re looking for, be it more people, more money, more notoriety, more fame, more control…whatever.
And that’s just it. Quite often there are real and tangible results. Sometimes there are even miraculous, awe-inspiring results. Jesus Himself says that these false prophets and workers of lawlessness do, in fact, do many mighty works in His name. I want you to think about that for a moment, because that’s terrifying! For one thing, these false prophets didn’t even know they were false prophets! They honestly thought they were doing great and mighty things in the name of Jesus; a name that they no doubt tossed around and sprinkled into their performances with great regularity. And great and mighty things were happening. Tons of money coming in. Tons of people coming in. New grand buildings and programs and all kinds of glorious things were taking place. People were flocking en masse to feel like they finally belonged somewhere; flocking to be a part of the action; to be healed of their problems and addictions and sicknesses, and results were happening. They were happy. They were cured. They were prosperous and on cloud nine. Things couldn’t be better! But…Jesus had nothing to do with it. Remember: Pharaoh’s guys were able to turn their staffs into snakes too. “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!”
You see, the fruits that are borne out in these awe-inspiring deeds and words are not the fruits of true and faithful repentance. They’re not the fruits that are naturally borne out when one confesses that they are a sinner who deserves nothing but present and eternal punishment, but who also holds fast to God’s undeserved grace and Christ’s undeserved righteousness alone. They’re not the fruits of justification. Rather, they’re the fruits of the serpent; false fruits of self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-delusion, and self-gratification.
This is why our Lord still commands us with all urgency to beware and be on guard against such deadly yet seductive poison. This is a warning that all those who call themselves Christians still need to hear today. And I word it in such a way precisely because there are many who do proudly self-identify as Christians, and yet are known only by Christ as workers and doers of lawlessness and unrighteousness. They’re not known by Him on His terms. They may claim to know Him, but He doesn’t know them. He doesn’t know them because they don’t proclaim and point to Him alone. They don’t proclaim and live out the message of the cross. They don’t proclaim and promote the cross of Christ and confession and absolution and His means of grace.
Instead, they teach and preach their own comfortable, people-pleasing versions of Christianity. They proclaim a theology of glory; a cross-less Christianity; a sanitized and politically-correct version of Christianity in which there are no pains, no suffering, no worries, and no crosses to bear, but only happy-happy, joy-joy; a very autonomous version of Christianity that enables everyone to believe what they want to believe, even if their “truth” differs with God’s truth; a very autonomous, self-aggrandizing version of Christianity that makes everyone else out to be wretched damnable sinners, but you’re just a good person who sometimes makes some poor decisions. The deadly trinity of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh teach and preach their own false versions of Jesus; the Jesus who doesn’t care who you marry or bed down with; the Jesus who doesn’t care if you shack up outside of marriage, so long as you love each other; the Jesus who doesn’t mind if you don’t go to church because He knows you’re a good person who loves Him and who just needs a break; the Jesus who fully supports the individual’s right and choice to terminate a pregnancy if it is determined (not by God, but by man) that the pregnancy will ‘ruin a girl’s life;’ the Jesus who doesn’t really give true body and blood in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine because that wouldn’t make sense to us and our superior knowledge; the Jesus who did His part and who now expects us to do our part and pull our weight in order to be saved.
Hmm…in one way or another that just hit pretty close to home for pretty much all of us here, didn’t it? That popular Jesus isn’t the true Jesus, is it? And yet…that’s the Jesus so often taught and promoted nowadays. Lawlessness indeed! “Depart from Me, for I never knew you. Your Jesus isn’t Me, the real Jesus!”
Folks: I know we’re not breaking any new ground here today. It is all so easy, and it’s stuff you already know. Ask yourself though (and be honest): When you encounter those claiming to represent Christ, either here or anywhere else you find yourself in your daily vocations, do you behold fruits that are in keeping with repentance and justification in Christ alone and because of Christ alone? The message matters, for it is the message that produces and bears the fruits! Is the Word of God rightly taught and His sacraments rightly administered? Judge using God’s Word! Judge for yourself using the lens that He gives you in order to make determination and test the spirits—the lens of the cross of Christ. Is the Word rightly taught; that is, is the full counsel of God proclaimed—full Law and full Gospel? Are His sacraments rightly administered? i.e., Baptism now saves you, and this promise is for you and for your entire household; take eat, take drink, this is My body and body for the complete forgiveness of all your sin; hear the words of your Lord, spoken in His stead and by His command, ‘Your sins are completely forgiven!’ If this is the case, then praise God! If not, beware, o little lamb, for you’re tangling with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That never turns out well for the sheep.
Judge for yourselves. Discern. Test the spirits. As for me and my household, I confidently end now the same way I began—at peace and in the almighty name above all names; the name of Him in whom the fullness of the triune God dwells bodily; the all-redeeming and all-powerful name of Jesus Christ; the same name in which I know God and He knows me and calls me to be His own; the same name I have been baptized into. And in the words of Paul, “I now I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
In His most precious name…AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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