Sunday, August 2, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Be on guard against false prophets who come to you in clothing of sheep, but inside they are greedy/robbing wolves. From their fruits you will recognize them; Are grapes gathered from briars, or figs from thistles? Therefore, all good trees produce excellent fruits, but a rotten tree produces evil fruits. A good tree is not able to produce evil fruits, nor a rotten tree produce excellent fruits. Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, from their fruits you will recognize them. Not everyone saying to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of My Father, the One in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, "Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy by Your name, and by Your name cast out demons, and by Your name do many powerful works?" And then, I will confess to them that not at any time did I acknowledge you; withdraw from me, workers of lawlessness.
"By their fruits, you will know them.", St. Paul gives a list of bad fruits in his letter to the Galatians: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealous, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions ,envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. If you see any of these rotten fruits, you can rest assured that such folks are lawless, not to be trusted as prophets. A real prophet has love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Seems simple enough.
But Jesus offers a different list for false prophets here: those who claim Him as Lord, those who by His name claim to prophesy, claim to cast out demons, and claim to do powerful works. Doesn't sound too false here, now does it..The problem is that false prophets would have trouble deceiving you if they appeared as the wolves they are. They are deceptive, and appear sheep-like, almost Christian in both their words and actions. So how can you tell a wolf when he is disguised in sheep's clothing?
Well, everything will be made clear on the last day. That's when Jesus will unmask these imitation sheep for the wolves they are. On that day, those who have swallowed the rotten fruits of their false prophesy will also be revealed as well. But none of us wants to be deceived in the meantime, so how is it that we can tell if there is a wolf underneath a sheep-like covering? Jesus tells us it is by their fruits that they will be recognized. But many of their words and works will surely seem quite Christian, as they deceive many.
But there is one particular fruit that reveals these false prophets for the wolves which they really are. It is the common theme of all of their claims, "Lord look what I did...Lord, hear what I said...Lord, see what I've accomplished..." Such false prophets look not to what God does, but to their own efforts to save them. They claim that they did something to make Jesus their Lord, and they will make the false claim that their works merit some sort of favor before Christ Jesus on the Last Day, meriting them heaven.
"But Pastor," you may be thinking, "doesn't Jesus say that only those who *do* the will of God the Father will make it to heaven?" Indeed He does. But what exactly is God's will for you to be doing? The disciples asked this of Jesus once, wanting to do the works of God (no doubt expecting an exhaustive list). Jesus told them on that occasion that the work of God is this: that you believe in Him whom the Father has sent. That's it. The entire work of God, given you to accomplish is to believe in Jesus, your Savior.
This work *of God* is sort of a play on words which Jesus uses, since you know well that your believing is not something you do on your own, but that it is a gift to you, a working of the Holy Spirit. Just as your entire salvation is pure gift from God, purchased for you by Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. This gift is delivered to you in God's washing you free from sin at Holy Baptism, and in the spiritual food He feeds you in the Lord's Supper–Christ Jesus' very body and blood for your forgiveness, life and salvation.
You know that only good fruit earns eternal life in heaven. You also know that you are *not good* by nature, sinful and unclean. You know, therefore that all of your personal fruits are rotten, since you are a corrupt tree whose heart inclinations are continuously toward evil. You deserve to be the tree cut down on the cover of the bulletin today, because you are a sinner. But you are not! For you have the work of God to your credit–Christ's Own righteousness credited to your account by His gift of faith!
For as Jesus declares, only God is good. His fruits are the only good ones. And they all come from His good tree, the one upon which He was nailed upon the hill called Calvary. His good works there merited your salvation, and His good, holy, perfect righteousness is given to you, in blessed exchange for your sin and death, so that you would be made good by Jesus, and worthy of eternal life in heaven. Amen.