On this Sunday of the Church Year, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, last year, I made the observation that there aren’t a lot of Gospel-sounding words in the Gospel lesson for today.
I observed, last year, that the false doctrine from false prophets is like rat poison in that false doctrine doesn’t always seem like poison, doesn’t always sound like poison, doesn’t necessarily walk, talk, or quack like poison—but it does, nevertheless, lead away from Jesus and to death.
Why would I do that?
Why would I make such an observation?
Well, on this Sunday of the Church Year, two years ago, I asked the question: “Would you rather hear a sermon preached by Jesus—or—would you rather hear a sermon preached by a false prophet?”
I asked that, because when Jesus began to preach, the first thing He said was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
So, who you’d rather hear from probably depends on the false prophet, whether you like him or not, because no one likes to be called to repentance.
Again, why would I ask such a question?
Why would I do that?
I don’t know if it was ever on this Sunday of the Church Year, but during my early years in Lutheranism, beginning late last century, I would hear phrases like:
“Doctrine divides. Love unites.”
Or, “Doctrine Divides. Faith Unites.”
It was always doctrine that was the problem—because Doctrine was defined as something taught or learned, something unchangeable and necessary, and it was those stodgy Lutherans who insisted upon teaching everyone who showed up.
it was never Love that was the problem—because Love was defined as something felt. It was those loving Lutherans who didn’t care what you believed as long as you showed up.
I remember it this way.
I’m not quoting anyone as far as I can remember, but this is the impression it made on me. In Sunday School, we were asked: would you rather feel loved and go to hell or be disagreed with and go to heaven?
We weren’t scared of this question.
We knew what we were being asked: Would you rather have your pride or possess eternal life?
Point being—God calls sinners to repentance.
And it’s better to feel the shame of sins confessed and the relief of sins forgiven than to avoid the shame and receive no relief.
We all know this to be true.
It’s easier to ignore sin—to go along with the group and the gossip. It’s easier not to disagree with your friends or your spouse when you get together to play cards.
It’s easy to be judgmental—but the rewards there become like ashes in your mouth.
And if they don’t now, they will when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.
It’s much more difficult to be curious, to wonder, to ask, to admit that you might not know—but the reward there is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
That’s how the proverb reads: “A word fitly spokenis like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:11-12).
He who has ears to hear, then, let him hear, because at this point I think it’s good to ask—So what?
Why ask all these questions—about rat poison, or hearing sermons preached by Jesus or false prophets, or whether or not our pride will keep us from the pearly gates?
Why would I have you consider these things?
What would I have you know?
I would have you heed the warning.
Jesus says, “Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).
If it were not so, you’d need no warning.
If false prophets didn’t come to you in sheep’s clothing—if they came, instead, holding signs saying, “I teach against what Jesus says. Don’t believe me,” then you don’t need the warning.
But that false prophets come to you in sheep’s clothing—that Jesus says, “Beware…” because you need the warning—be patient with the pastor who warns you.
Be curious—not judgmental—when I tell you that false prophets give you things to do to be saved.
“Just pray about it.”
“Give your heart to Jesus.”
“Just have a personal relationship.”
“Decide for Him.”
“Let go and let God.”
That’s not just bad fruit—that’s evil fruit, because it undermines the glory that belongs to Christ alone and leads the struggling believer into spiritual uncertainty.
For you to be saved—is it at all up to you?
We know it’s not, if you’ve been raised Lutheran, you’ve heard Ephesians chapter two about nine million times.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We know salvation is God’s gift and not by our works, but false prophets quickly point out the steps you need to take and where to send the check.
Pray about it, give your heart, decide for Jesus, and let go; it’ll lead you nowhere except the arrogance that thinks you’ve done something or the despair that knows you can’t.
You’ll never be certain if salvation is at all up to you.
So—“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘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).
But the words of false prophets become ashes in your mouth when Jesus returns and demands from you an account.
St. Paul says to the pastors in Ephesus and to all pastors since: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure (St. Paul says), fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert” (Acts 20:28-31).
I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God—not all at once, right now. We’d have to break for lunch eventually. But over time.
You will know the prophet by his fruit.
The fruit of a prophet is his prophecy.
And the fruit of a pastor or preacher or teacher is the content of his teaching.
Lest you think I’m trying to drum up support for myself, let me be clear: I don’t want you to trust me.
I don’t want you to trust synod.
I don’t want you to trust CPH or Crossway or the book you bought at revival when you were a child.
I want you to trust Jesus.
Count the world as lost and throw in with Him.
Forsake your feelings and bind unto yourself this day the strong name of the Trinity, asking:
What does our Lord say?
That’s what I would have you ask.
And that’s what I would have you know.
Jesus says: “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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord…”
Not everyone who prophesies in His name…
Not everyone who casts out demons or does mighty works in His name…
But the one who does the will of God.
And what is the will of God—and the work of God?
That you believe in Him whom He has sent (cf. John 6:28-29).
“In Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of throne of God.
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you would not grow weary or fainthearted…
“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. Heed the warning, and do not be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (cf. Hebrews 12:2-6).
“Bind unto yourself this day, the strong name of the Trinity…Of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!” (cf. LSB 604:5).
On the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, this year and every year, and on every day the Good Lord gives us, that’s what I would have you know:
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 8, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt