Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning is from the Gospel just read from St. Matthew, chapter seven.
Beware of false prophets! This is not a popular idea today. Talk about false prophets is about as popular now as it was with Jeremiah, or Paul, or Jesus. Why should we need to be wary? Isn’t that an old fashioned idea, that should have gone out with the rotary phone? Surely we are discerning enough to be able to tell truth from falsehood. Surely we can tell what is from God and what’s not. Can’t we?
The fact of the matter is that we can’t tell the difference. Not on our own, at least. Eve was beguiled by Satan, and ever since that time, it has been a struggle, indeed a war to discern what is true and what is false.
But its not for lack of information. We have more access to more information that ever before in the history of the world. We can Google our way through most any problem or question that you could come up with. Want to know what birds are indigenous to the mountains of Tibet? No problem! How about the distance from here to Alpha Centari? Got it. Or who was the last Pharaoh in Egypt who was left-handed? I can find that.
Yet for all our knowledge, for all our science and the multiplication of resources, we are no closer to God today that we were thousands of years ago. We as a people may be advanced, we may even be at the pinnacle of our civilization, but we are still, after all of that, just sheep.
This is why we as a people are so tempted by the vision makers and the dreamers of this and every age. Every generation has teachers who offer vain hopes and who make promises they cannot keep. In Jeremiah’s day, the promise that the false visioners gave was that everything would be hunky-dory, that everything would be perfect. “No disaster shall befall you,” they said. This was despite all the warnings. This was despite decades of preaching of the Law. They did not want to hear. And so Jeremiah was persecuted, just like the prophets who went before him, and just like to many prophets who came after him.
But why? Why did the people want to hear the lie? Why listen to the wolf who would devour them instead of the Shepherd who would lead them to the still waters of God’s Word?
They listened because it was easy. It was easy to hear the message of “peace, peace” when there was no peace. They listened because they did not want to face the simple reality that their actions have consequences. So they stubbornly followed their own heart. They didn’t want to believe that their idolatry and violating of God’s will would actually come back to haunt them. And so, rather than face the truth, they believed the lie.
Perhaps an example from history is in order. In 1938 the British Prime Minister was a man named Neville Chamberlain. We remember him today because of his appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany. He signed a peace treaty with Hitler called the Munich Agreement. And this was just months before the invasion of Poland. He signed a treaty with Germany that meant nothing.
But when Chamberlain came home from the Munich Agreement, he was greeted to thronging crowds. Thousands, tens of thousands lauded him as the one who had brought “peace in our time.” But their peace was based on a lie. The madman would have his day, so matter what a piece of paper read.
So back to Jesus. What Jesus warns about here is false prophets. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, He called them. He warned them of these false prophets because Jesus knew our weaknesses. He knows how easy it is for us to be swayed by the lie. He knows how quickly our itching ears would have their way and follow the dreamers and the visioners. So Jesus gives us this warning, and He gives us a promise wrapped in this warning. “You shall know them by their fruits.”
The fruits of a teacher is both what he teaches and what his followers teach. There isn’t really any mystery about how to find a faithful preacher and teacher. It’s really not complicated at all. Look at the fruits. Does the preacher give God’s Word? Does the preacher give you Jesus? Does he point you to God’s Promises in Word and Meal, in preaching and the waters of Baptism? Or does he drive you back inside yourself to your own feelings and fears and doubts?
I once had a teacher who said that theology is simple, but that false theology is complicated (Robert Preus). Jesus says “My sheep know my voice.” So do you know the voice of your Shepherd? Do you hear the words and promises of God in His Word, and how dearly our Lord paid for those promises?
It is no accident that Jesus warns them about the wolves. Elsewhere Jesus sends out the disciples as “lambs in the midst of wolves.” But He would know. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The false teachers swarmed around Him, and when He would not listen to their lies, they killed Him upon a tree. But He lives even now! And Jesus this day makes the promise to you that you will never be snatched out of His hand.
The point, beloved, is that you are God’s and that our Heavenly Father will guard and keep you until you are reunited with Him and all the saints in heaven. Don’t listen to the wolves who would spread their lies of despair and self-righteousness. Christ Himself holds you in the palm of His hand. He has sent and under-shepherd to give you Him, and to lead you to the still waters of His life.
Trust in His Word of promise. It will never let you down. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Preached at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California, on Trinity 8, July 29, 2012, by Pastor Todd A. Peperkorn.