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.

Repentance hurts.

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
Matthew 7:15-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson, but I’m going to do my best.

First, though…

Would anyone like to eat some rat poison?

Not a lot, mind you, just a little.

What if we feed rat poison to the whole world?

They would eat and be satisfied. That’s good, right?

We could water it down. Surely, we’ll build up an immunity to it by ingesting it carefully and in small quantities. A little dab’ll do ya, right?

Advertise it as all-natural, non-GMO, vegan rat poison, since that’s the thing to do.

Or sweeten it—no one would ever guess at the bait and switch.

Of course we’ll charge a pretty penny for it, and imagine all the good we could do with the money.

Guys, I’m tellin’ ya, this is worth a shot.

You may not know it, but I just described every tent-revivalist and false prophet and nearly every science textbook that exists.

Some rat poisons are made of 99.995% inert ingredients. That means 99.995% of some rat poisons do nothing. They probably taste and look great.

But it’s not the 99.995% that kills you. Or the rat.

It’s the .005% poison and false doctrine that does the killing.

A science textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “We evolved from nothing when something eventually happened to the nothing” is rat poison.

A biology textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “Gender is a fluid, social construct” is rat poison.

In the Church, teaching that is 99% true and 1% false is rat poison, no matter how much you love the 99% or the person speaking.

False doctrine satanic, blasphemous rat poison.

If I serve up 100 of the best chocolate chip cookies, and I say, “Only one of them is laced with enough rat poison to kill you.” None of those cookies will be eaten.

But, in American Christianity, if your shepherd calls your attention to theological rat poison, the response isn’t “Ew. Gross. Let me eat somewhere else and better” but rather, “I’m sure he means well, and he’s done a lot of good in the world. Who are you to judge?”

I’m not talking about accidental theological rat poison  that’s soon enough repented of. In the manuscript of last week’s sermon, I forgot the word “not,” so it read something like “God wants us to hurt people.”

This happens when your describe God as immoral instead of immortal or when you’re reading the Christmas story and call Joseph just a man instead of a just man. I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison.

Or the incidental stuff that’s dropped as soon as it’s noticed. In the Altar Guild Manual that CPH sells, it says specifically that plastic cups should never be used. It’s easy to read a CPH published, Commission on Worship approved statement like that and change what you do.

But I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison. I’m talking about persistent adherence to false doctrine, teaching in word and deed that is contrary to Christ.

Like publishing the Altar Guild Manual and selling plastic cups.

It’s my God-given responsibility to say true things and, teaching the truth of the Word of God, to warn you of the wolves dressed as sheep.

Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

He says, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” meaning, “Beware…of the teaching of the Pharisees” (cf. Matthew 16:11-12).

We don’t ignore them completely. Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (cf. Matthew 23, esp. vv. 1-2).

“You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), Jesus says.

By their teaching and works. By what they say and do.

You will hear and see and judge—according to the Word of God—whether “Thus says the Lord” or not.

And if you find .005% poison in what is otherwise a fine meal, do what you would do in all other cases.

If one pill in a hundred will kill you, you’d call the doctor or the pharmacy, you’d ask a question, you’d confirm and have the bottle refilled.

If one cookie in a hundred will kill you, you’d easily refrain from eating those and happily eat what you know for certain is meet, right, and salutary.

The doctor may be supremely popular, incredibly kind, or, as they say in Boston, “Wicked smaht.” But he, the pharmacist, or whoever, can still make mistakes.

And unfortunately does.

Has anyone here been given the wrong prescription?

As soon as you realize it, you take action.

You don’t keep taking it.

You don’t gamble with your life—and you shouldn’t.

Not with pills. Or cookies. Or false doctrine.

This is my paraphrase, but St. Paul says in the book of Acts: “I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves. God has obtained the Church with His own blood, but fierce wolves come in among you and seek you out. From among your own selves arise men speaking twisted things, to draw you away” (paraphrase, cf. Acts 20:27-30).

If only 99% of the sermon is faithful, biblical teaching, you need to sit down with me and show me the 1%.

And I need to listen and correct it.

If 99% of what Billy Graham said is faithful, biblical teaching—that’s great—insofar as he taught the truth when he taught the truth.

But when and where he didn’t teach the truth, be honest about it and move on.

Billy Graham said this about Baptism: “Baptism is a conclusive act of obedience and witness to the world that we are Christ’s.”

Be honest. That’s the .005%. That’s false doctrine. That’s as far from what Scripture teaches as you can get.

That teaches that faith must pre-exist Baptism, which is contrary to the Word of God.

That teaches that Baptism is a work we do rather than a work God does, which is contrary to the Word of God.

That teaches that Baptism is worthless in terms of salvation which is contrary to the Word of God.

St. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

St. Paul writes, “[God] saved us, not because of [obedient] works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (cf. Titus 3:5-6).

Baptism is one of the means by which God saves us.

That’s what the Bible teaches.

And any teacher that teaches otherwise and remains in that false teaching is a false prophet.

We recognize them by their fruits, their teaching, what they say and do.

This last week, I attended a conference in Wisconsin. One of the sessions I attended identified false doctrine as a form of persecution.

Not so pastors sit in self-pity, but so we all recognize who we’re up against.

I heard it, immediately recognized it as true, but I also realized that I couldn’t have articulated it that way myself. I rejoice to learn.

False doctrine is persecution.

When doctrine is attacked, it’s the devil’s work.

He does not want to let God speak.

Consider all the times when what you know to be true according to God’s Word is attacked in front of you.

It’s no longer socially acceptable to assert the truth of the Word of God over and against homosexuality, divorce, premarital sex, or pornography—and I don’t mean the pornography that everyone hates, I mean most daytime tv shows designed for children, I mean that kind of godless pornography.

 Christians won’t condemn what is clearly condemned in the Word of God without first listing all the exceptions to the rule.

We don’t want to offend.

But the Gospel is offensive—if you believe it.

Church is a rather uncomfortable place—if what we say is happening is actually happening.

This is the Gospel: in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all sin is forgiven. And all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

For you to benefit from that, you have to call yourself a sinner, first. You have to agree that there’s a right and a wrong and that you are by nature sinful, unclean, and in the wrong.

That’s offensive because it’s so alien, so strange to us who are definitely used to justifying self.

But there is peace for you if you confess that you cannot save yourself, that God saves you, not by conclusive acts of obedience or outward expressions of an inward grace but by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

Church is, for a time, a rather uncomfortable place, because you—a sinner—are in the presence of God.

Have you ever listened to the words of the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”?

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence / And with fear and trembling stand; / Ponder nothing earthly minded, / For with blessing in His hand / Christ our God to earth descending / Comes our homage to demand” (LSB 621:1).

Coram Deo, in the presence of God, if you’re not humbled by the fact that God’s Body and Blood is truly present—you’re probably already dead and this is Weekend at Bernie’s.

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).

There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson. I’d say about 99.995% of them are Law.

But .005% can do a lot.

Not everyone who publicly, loudly, and successfully-in-the-eyes-of-everyone-else says “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Not everyone who pontificates and prophesies with passion will enter the kingdom of heaven.

But you will.

Because you hear the Word of God and do it.

Even when you don’t want to or no one does.

Even when it hurts, or is scandalous to the world, drawing its ire.

You recognize good fruit and rejoice in it.

With blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descends, come at last to save all Man.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 8 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 7:15-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt