August 2, 2020
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
A few weeks ago, we learned from Jesus that we should not judge. Obviously, Jesus did not mean that absolutely, but rather that we should not judge where God does not give us the right to judge. We should assume the best of others instead of rushing to rash judgments. And we should be quick to forgive those who sin against us, as our heavenly Father forgives us. That is what Jesus means when he says, “Judge not.” By following this teaching, we follow our Shepherd Jesus, who removes God’s judgment and condemnation from us.
Yet, today Jesus teaches us to judge. To beware of false prophets requires judgment. You must judge whether the one who claims to teach you God’s word is a true teacher from God, or a false teacher. This is not in any way a contradiction to what Jesus previously taught. Both these lessons, not to judge and to beware of false prophets come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which teaches us to follow Jesus alone as our true teacher.
Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s Word. A false prophet is someone who claims to speak God’s Word, but actually lies. Jeremiah records God’s displeasure at the false prophets who prophesy lies in his name saying, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17) Likewise, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount teaches us to beware of teachers, who claim to speak for God, but really speak lies.
Jesus tells us that false prophets will come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. This means that the false teachers, who will speak lies to us will not look like false teachers from the outside. They will look like good guys. They’ll look like your pastor. You can’t just assume that because it says Christian on the church sign that you can trust what the preacher says. Rather, Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits.” You must listen to what the preacher teaches in order to tell whether it is from God or not. If what he teaches is contrary to God’s word, you must mark and avoid that preacher, no matter how good he otherwise seems to be.
One struggle our church body has is that people assume that all Lutheran churches are the same. If it says Lutheran on the church sign, then it must be a good place to go to church. But Satan is much too clever to let that pass. Much heartbreak has been caused by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Many Lutherans in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) have family and friends who attend churches in the ELCA. That makes sense. We are different branches from the same historical church-family tree. We’re cousins, if you will. And it causes much heartbreak when family members cannot commune when they visit each other, when they both identify as Lutheran.
Likewise, when young people from LCMS congregations grow up, they find it tempting to go to an ELCA congregation when they move away, because after all, it is Lutheran. But you must be careful. While the ELCA has Lutheran in its name, it does not follow the teachings of the Lutheran Church, but rather teachings contrary to Christ Jesus. The ELCA teaches that the Bible contains errors and that not everything in the Bible is true. This is why they have women pastors even though the Bible clearly teaches that only men can be pastors in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 among other places. When they read, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” or “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.” they take these words as St. Paul’s alone and not as God’s. But it is important to remember that although the Bible was written by men and I will often say in my sermons, “St. Paul says this or the Prophet Jeremiah says that,” the words these men write are not their own, but God’s. For Scripture also says, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) and “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Yet, people will defend this error and say it is only a small one, as if ignoring what God says is ever a small matter. But this is not how God’s Word works. God spoke through Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Fire is used to purify silver and gold by separating the precious metal from the dross. Likewise, a hammer separates valuable ore from worthless rocks. God does not teach error, but rather exposes it.
So, as you would expect, a church body that says that the Bible contains errors will find more and more at fault with God’s written word. In 2009 the ELCA approved the ordination of openly practicing homosexuals. So, a sin, which Scripture calls an abomination and threatens that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Leviticus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10), the ELCA permits to be practiced openly by their pastors, whom Scripture says must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). And last year, their convention passed a statement, which stated that we cannot know God’s judgment concerning another religion, when Jesus clearly says in Scripture that he is the way, the truth, and the life; No one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). And the ELCA is not alone. Many other mainline “Christian” Churches accept doctrines and practices that are clearly against the Bible, telling sinners that they do not need to repent of their sins, denying the Biblical distinction between men and women, and claiming that people can be saved without believing in Jesus. This is exactly what Scripture warns against when it says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Of course, I’m well aware that many of you have friends and relatives in the ELCA and I am not saying that they are not Christians. What I am saying is that they should be aware of the false teaching within their church body and should look for a church that preaches the true word of God.
Now more than ever, you must be careful which church you attend and which pastor you listen to. And your caution should not just be focused outside of our church body, as if you’re safe as long as you go to an LCMS congregation. No, you should judge every LCMS preacher you hear. You should judge me and what I preach to you.
Yet, how are you to rightly judge what I or any other preacher preaches to you? Well, you need to know the truth. But how can you know the truth, if you do not pay attention to God’s Word? Getting people to judge sermons is not a difficult thing to do. Most hearers already judge sermons. They determine whether they like them or not; whether they believe them or not. But based on what standard? If you do not learn the Holy Scriptures, then you will judge based on your own feelings and wisdom or based on the messages you get out in the world. How much TV do you watch? How many movies? How much time do you spend on the internet? All these media influence what you think and believe. But do you have devotions every day? Do you read a little bit of Scripture and say prayers with your family? Can you still recite your Catechism from memory? Do you know the Ten Commandments? Can you recite the Apostles’ Creed? Do you remember what the Bible teaches about Baptism, Confession, and the Lord’s Supper?
To be able to judge what your pastor preaches seems like a daunting task. Who is qualified to do it? This is why it is important to learn your Small Catechism. It teaches the basics of the Christian faith from the Bible: The Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, what the Bible says about Baptism, the Office of the Keys, and the Lord’s Supper. Use your Small Catechism as a devotional book. If you are familiar with what it teaches, you will be able to recognize whether your pastor is preaching the truth or not.
You do not need to know every false teaching to recognize it as a false teaching. You need to recognize the one true teaching. When I pick weeds in my garden, I don’t try to identify what type of weed it is. I simply pull it out if it isn’t the plant I planted. Likewise, if you recognize the true teaching, as you have been taught in your Catechism, you will recognize when something is off.
Jesus says, “Neither be called instructor, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” Jesus is your only true teacher. Every pastor you have in life has the job to teach only what Jesus teaches. And Jesus is the best teacher. He teaches us the way to the Father is through faith in him. He teaches us that he died to take away our sins and that he lives to defend us from all evil. He teaches us that God the Father loves us and that he who sent his own Son to die for us will certainly give us every good thing. Jesus teaches us that in Baptism our sins are washed away and that we receive a new birth by the Holy Spirit. He teaches us that when the pastor forgives our sins in his stead, he himself is forgiving us in heaven before God the Father and all his angels. Jesus teaches us that the bread and wine he feeds us is his very own body and blood, which he sacrificed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus teaches us that whoever believes in him will live forever.
Jesus is the best teacher, because his teaching is true and because only his teaching gives eternal life. For this reason, we should not take it as a burden to learn our Catechism and to read a little bit of Scripture each day. Rather, we should fervently desire to learn from our teacher at every opportunity. Don’t just go to church every once in a while. Go to church every Sunday. Listen to the Scripture lessons. Hear how the Sermon applies God’s word to you. Go to Bible study; listen, ask questions, grow in your faith. You cannot beware of false teachers if you do not follow the one true teacher. And when you have a church and a pastor that is faithful to Christ our true teacher, thank the Lord and take every opportunity to learn from Jesus.
Jesus tells us that false prophets are inwardly ravenous wolves. This is because behind every false teacher is Satan. He hates you and the truth. He wants to take you away from Jesus forever. But Jesus is our true Shepherd. We know his voice and follow him alone. And he gives us eternal life. Amen.