The Rev. Paul J Cain
Beware. Depart. Fruits
Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 10 August 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Law. That’s what you primarily heard in the Gospel for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 7:15-24. Jesus warns us to beware false teachers. He says that mere lip service is not enough. Those who He never knew are commanded to depart. And He speaks of fruit—Gospel fruit.
We begin with His words regarding A Tree and Its Fruit: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
I had a disastrous experience with rosebushes when we lived in Green River. I grew up with rosebushes all over our side yard. They seemed to flourish in Nebraska. My first mistake was buying them on clearance from a department store. My second mistake was planting them without any extra nourishment—no potting soil or miracle gro. My third mistake was not noticing the rocky soil of the parsonage yard there in Sweetwater County until we had to use sharp shovels and pickaxes to improve the decades-old sprinkler system. No fruits. No roses. Just thorns.
False prophets are just like those dead or dying rosebushes: no fruits, no roses, but plenty of thorns—just ask those persecuted by Islam. It is politically incorrect to say that false prophets exist. False teaching exists. Saying either of those statements can get you into trouble especially in a society like ours that has redefined “tolerate” as a synonym of “agree with me” or “treat me as an equal” even when their words and deeds trample on God’s Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.
The summary of what Jesus teaches here is very simple, and should be stated clearly: True teaching includes both Law and Gospel and ultimately leads you to Jesus and His comfort. False teaching ignores true Law and/or the true Gospel and leads you away from Christ to a false comfort, and to hypocrisy and despair.
False teaching is easier to spot if you already know the true teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ from Holy Scripture. The same Jesus Who says “Beware of false prophets” also says: “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Those verses I just read from Matthew 7:1-5 come before today’s Matthew 7 verses from 15-24. They belong together. They inform one another. One who dares to judge another’s doctrine and practice had better be above reproach in doctrine and practice before doing so.
Judge only if you are prepared to be judged. Repent and be reconciled to the Lord first. Have the log out of your own eye before you even think about talking about or acting on the speck in your brother’s eye.
We are to identify, expose, and judge false prophets and their false teaching. We do not want anyone to be led astray and led away from Christ. We should love the sheep and even the wolves enough to speak up against falsehood and speak up for Christ’s truth.
In the second paragraph, Jesus says, I Never Knew You: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
We could substitute better words instead of those quoted by those departing from Jesus. We could say, “Lord, have mercy,” or “Our Father, who art in heaven,” or, “I believe…” or even “Amen. Lord Jesus, quickly come!”
Yet, not everyone who says the right words means them. Not everyone who says the right words believes them.
Back in February, Dr. Gene Edward Veith blogged about the word hypocrisy (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/02/the-actual-definition-of-hypocrisy/). He said:
Justin Taylor, (my editor at Crossway,) points out many people who use the word “hypocrisy” do not know what it actually means. It isn’t /not practicing what you preach, but not believing/ what you say you do.
Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft: The common, modern misunderstanding of hypocrisy [is] not practicing what you preach. . . . Actually, we have misdefined “hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy is not the failure to practice what you preach but the failure to believe it. Hypocrisy is propaganda.
The great art critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830): He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves.
The American Heritage Dictionary: [Hypocrisy is] the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
During my Junior year of college, I thought I’d be going into politics. Today, we see all kinds of partisan “spin doctors” on news and commentary shows. Their job is to “spin” or interpret events in a way favorable to their candidate or elected official. Even twenty years ago, I knew then that political spin was out there / but to never, ever, believe your own side’s spin. In other words, never fall for your own misguided and sinful internal propaganda.
We do not want anyone to be led astray and led away from Christ. We should never condone someone else’s sin. We avoid even the appearance of immorality, so that we would not lead someone astray by our bad example. We desire for all to enter the kingdom of heaven on the merits of Christ.
When we ponder the “fruit of faith” we most often think about the fruit of the Gospel in our own lives. Jesus says that good prophets have good fruits. False prophets have bad fruits. Both may take time to truly notice.
The most important fruits of the Christian life are not those from your own mind, hands, lips, or heart. Even such “good works” are tainted by sin and spoiled by our pride in them. You yourselves are the fruit of Jesus’ birth, ministry, healing, suffering, crucifixion, death, and Resurrection. You are Jesus’ good fruit. You are forgiven, cleansed, and reconciled to God. You are good fruit because of Christ Jesus.
It is as if Jesus said: Heed me, the true Prophet of God, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Your sins are forgiven. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are gifts to you, fruit of my ministry. So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, for a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit. Recognize prophets by their fruit. Those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven, will truly prophesy in My name, and do many mighty works for the benefit of their neighbors. And then will I declare to them, ‘I know you by name. Come unto me, you / who are fruit of my righteousness.’
True teaching includes both Law and Gospel and ultimately leads you to Jesus and His comfort. False teaching ignores true Law or the true Gospel (or both) and leads you away from Christ to a false comfort, and to hypocrisy and despair.
O Lord, teach us your Word, that we know it in both mind and heart, that words of repentance and faith may always be on our lips! Have mercy upon us, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil! Grant that we may hear Your Word so that we may know Your Word so that we may do your Word.
LSB For blessing on the Word: Lord God, bless Your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a word of power and peace to convert those not yet Your own and to conform those who have come to saving faith. May Your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as You have promised, Your Word may achieve the purpose for which You send it[. Grant this, Lord, unto us all]; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.