August 6, 2017
"Beware of false prophets," Jesus warns. Well, what is a false prophet? First you have to know that a false prophet isn't going to come out and tell you that he's a false prophet. He looks good. He looks like he's sent by God and that he's going to tell you the truth of what God says. They're dressed in sheep's clothing, Jesus says. False prophets are in pulpits and in seminaries, they wear crosses around their necks and carry Bibles. So, you can't tell a false prophet simply by looking at him. "By their fruits you will know them." What are their fruits? Their prophecies, that is, their words. You will know that they are false prophets by the words they preach and teach.
False prophets teach contrary to God's Word while leading you to believe that they teach God's Word in truth. They lie and tell you they are telling the truth. This is the worst offense against the Second Commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by his name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks." False prophets say that God said something he didn't say. They place God's name on a lie. This is clearly forbidden by God.
Protection from false prophets is the first thing we pray for in the Lord's Prayer. "Hallowed be Thy name. How is God's name kept holy? God's name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!" (From Luther's Small Catechism, First Petition of the Lord's Prayer)
Every time you pray the Lord's Prayer you pray that God would protect you from false prophets, who teach lies in God's name. False prophets teach many different lies. They are not united as Christ is. Their teachings don't come from Christ, but from Satan. And Satan will lead you away in whatever way he can.
A very popular false teaching today that is taught by many who claim to be Christian ministers is that the Bible is not entirely reliable. Now they normally won't outright tell you that they think the Bible has errors. They'll try to sound academic and say, "Well, not all of the Bible is meant to be taken literally." But they don't simply mean that the Bible has sections of poetry, visions, and parables, which need to be treated as such. They use this language to disregard historical records in Scripture that they think seem farfetched or make them uncomfortable. So, they deny that God created the world and human beings the way he said he did and they depend on theories promoted by atheists. They will deny the miracles of Jesus and they will try to convince you that all this doesn't really affect your faith anyway.
They will deny that Paul wrote his Epistles or claim that we don't have to accept everything that St. Paul or other apostles write, (ignoring the fact that Christ Jesus himself made these men his apostles and gave them their words to speak). And they'll even say things that sound really Christian, like the Gospel is the most important thing in the Bible and the Gospel is the real authority of Scripture. Meanwhile they chip away at every other teaching of Scripture until you don't realize that they have assaulted the very Gospel of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ.
These false prophets are very successful, because they are very appealing. They don't tell you what God tells you (or only half of what God tells you). Instead, they will tell you what you want to hear. St. Paul warns, "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)
So, people follow false teachers, because they tell them what they want to hear. This is quite natural for sinners. When you seek advice from friends do you take the advice that is the most sound or the advice that makes you look good or is the easiest to follow? And so, people follow after false prophets, who say that God doesn't have a problem with fornication or homosexuality or abortion or divorce or greed. It's a lot nicer to hear that you don't need to repent of your sins or that your family and loved ones don't need to repent from their sins than to hear that you are a poor miserable sinner in need of redemption. These false prophets seem friendly and loving. The Jesus of those traditionalists sounds unloving, archaic, and bigoted.
But you have to remember the source of these teachings. Teachings that promote sexual immorality, murder, and covetousness do not come from God, but from Satan. Satan does not love you. He wants to murder your soul. God loves you. Jesus died for you out of love for you. Yes, God will lay down the law. He will tell you that you are a sinner. He will tell you to repent. But everything he does is out of love. If you continue in your sins you will go to hell. You cannot have saving faith while you continue in impenitent sin. Jesus calls you out of your sin to eternal life. Satan wants to keep you in your sin so that you go to hell.
Who is more loving? A father who disciplines his disobedient child or a stranger who speaks sweetly and offers candy to the child if he gets into his van? It is far better for a child to endure a spanking and a scolding from his father, who loves him than to accept sweet candy from a stranger, who wishes to do him harm. And so, we should flee the sweet talk of false prophets and listen to God's word, both the Law, which rebukes us, and the Gospel, which comforts us.
Those who deny that the Bible is without errors are not the only false prophets. Many so-called conservative churches still teach falsely. They will deny the saving power of Baptism, even though Scripture clearly states that God saves us through Baptism. They'll deny the pastor's authority to forgive and retain sins and that the Lord's Supper is Christ's true body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. They deny these teachings, because they place their own sinful reason over the clear words of God. You should avoid such churches. Do not attend them. Do not worship there. Instead go where all of Christ's means of grace are given to his people.
The worst kind of false teaching is the teaching that claims that you must earn your own salvation. This teaching robs Christ of his glory. And it sets you up as your own false god. If you must earn your own salvation by your good works you must trust in yourself, how good you can be instead of trusting in Christ's sacrifice on the cross for your sins. Beware of false prophets, who will twist scripture and torture your conscience to convince you that Christ's death is not enough to win your salvation. Trust in Christ alone and trust in him unceasing!
But does this all really matter? Isn't it just important that we're all "Christians?" Why get so bent out of shape with the details? Indeed, this is the way most people think. People are more discerning of what brand of pop they drink than the purity of God's Word they listen to. And so, it is important for us to listen to our Lord's words once again. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." They aren't sheep. They're wolves. What do wolves do? Wolves kill. They murder. That is Satan's goal with false teaching. His goal is to destroy your faith, to separate you from Jesus. He is not loving. He does not bring you closer to Jesus. His goal is for you to trust in yourself, despair of God's gifts, forsake God's word, to die without hope or with false hope.
So, while it is true that there are Christians, who will go to heaven, who attend churches run by false prophets, this does not mean that marking and avoiding false prophets is unimportant.
This is a matter of life and death. It is very important for you to beware of false prophets; to guard against them. Now, how do you do that? Immediately after our Gospel lesson Jesus says, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Matthew 7:24-25)
You are founded on the rock if you believe in Jesus' words. The best way to be founded on the rock is to learn your Catechism. We call it Luther's Small Catechism, because Martin Luther wrote the explanations in our Catechism. But Martin Luther didn't give us the Small Catechism. God did. The Catechism is simply the basics of what a Christian needs to know to be a Christian. All the teachings of the Catechism come from the Bible. The Catechism is made up of six chief parts: The Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, The Lord's Prayer, Baptism, The Office of The Keys, and The Lord's Supper. The Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses and are listed in Exodus chapter 20. The Apostles' Creed, while it does not exist in the Bible in that exact form is a summary of the Apostles' teaching about God as found in Scripture. Jesus taught us to pray the Lord's Prayer. Jesus gave us Baptism, the Office of the Keys, and the Lord's Supper. The Catechism clearly and simply explains what Scripture teaches about these three means of grace!
Every one of you should have your Small Catechism memorized. Not just the youths, who are preparing for Confirmation. Everyone from the little children just learning to pray to the elderly should be learning their Small Catechism by heart. And every one of us should use the Catechism in our daily prayers. And fathers should lead their families to pray it and teach it to their children.
You are much less likely to fall for the devil's lie that sexual immorality is not a big deal if you know your Ten Commandments by heart. You will be able to answer the Jehovah's Witness or Mormon at your door if you know the Apostles Creed and what it means. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Tell that to the Jehovah's Witness when he tries to deny that Jesus is true God.
You pray the Lord's Prayer every day. But do you know what the words mean? Your Small Catechism gives a simple explanation to each petition, to help you pray!
Do you have your Small Catechism memorized? Do you pray from it each day? Are you prepared to guard yourself against false prophets?
You must be able to judge your pastor. You must be able to judge me to determine whether I am teaching you God's Word in truth or whether I am a false prophet. You can't simply judge me based on your own thoughts and opinions. To recognize the fruit of a false teacher and the fruit of a true teacher sent by God, you must be built on the Rock. You need to know your Catechism. That is how you know your Savior, Jesus.
The truth matters. Because the truth reveals to you your Savior Jesus. Satan does not love you. The lies he spreads through false prophets do not help you. But the truth sets you free from sin, death, and hell. The truth is, God loves you. He loves you so that he sent his Son to redeem you with his own precious blood and innocent suffering and death. He loves you so that he washes you clean in Jesus blood through Baptism. He loves you so that he convicts you of your sin so that he can forgive you. He loves you so that he feeds you Christ's own body and blood, so that you can say, "Yes, I have received Jesus' forgiveness. God says so!" God loves you. And he shows you his love through his pure teaching. So, guard and cherish his teaching. Amen.