Preached: June 26, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to us in Matthew 7.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. People don't father grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles, do they? So every good tree produces good fruit, but the bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn't produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will recognize them by their fruit.
Not everyone was says to me, "Lord, Lord!" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord didn't we prophesy in your name, and drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?" Then I will confess to them, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man. He built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the rivers rose, and the wind blew and fell against that house. But it did not fall, for it stood on the foundation of the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man. He built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the rivers rose, and the wind blew and struck that house. And it fell with a great crash.
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching. For he was teaching as someone having authority and not as the their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:15-29)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
"For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 19:37 NIV1984). Did those words really sound true as Jesus spoke? Consider the circumstances. He was on trial for his life. How weak and helpless he must have looked! Already beaten and condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin, what hope was there? Can we blame Pilate for asking "What is truth?" (John 19:39 NIV1984)? He knew that Jesus was innocent, but what good did that truth do? Did the truth really matter?
We too live in a day when truth seems so fluid. Does it really matter anymore? Politic truths changes with the latest polls. Then there are the scientific truths. Who can argue with proven facts? Yet how differently those facts are explained over the years -- just compare a science book from the fifties to today! I know that they label the change as scientific advancement. But a changeable truth isn't the truth we long for. It's really not truth, is it?
"For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (John 19:37 NIV1984). Do you want an unchangeable truth, a sure and solid foundation? Do you want a truth that does not fluctuate with the latest poll or scientific experiment, a truth that does not depend on your observation, your experience, your feeling? Then listen to the one who came into this world. We could not discover the truth, but he brings it from outside of this world to reveal it to you and me. He brings you the truth, the unchangeable, sure, genuine, truth. Listen to him and put his word of truth into practice.
In the closing words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings home this point. With vivid pictures he tells us: "Practice my truth." How do you do that, dear friends? Don't believe the false disguises. Rather build your faith and life on the sure foundation. That's how we practice the truth Jesus reveals. Remember the theme and live it in your life.
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matthew 7:15 NIV1984). Many claims of truth come from outside the visible church. We mentioned scientific claims earlier. All the other religions of the world claim truth as well. But they don't claim to follow Jesus. They don't pretend to be as his sheep. They don't try to disguise themselves as Christian. So it's not hard to see that none of them teach the truth that Jesus brings. You can see that they are wolves whose teachings try to devour and destroy faith in Jesus. They may act quite nicely, but it's clear that they are wolves, for they don't pretend to follow Jesus as his sheep. And of course we are to beware of them, just as sheep stay away from wolves.
But with his words here Jesus warns us of a much more deceptive danger: not just wolves, but wolves in sheep's clothing. They disguise themselves in Christian words and acts. They claim to speak God's Word. They stand in pulpits and sit pews of Christian churches. They even talk a lot about Jesus as if they were his sheep.
"Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" (Matthew 7:22 NIV1984). "Lord, didn't we read from your Bible and have programs to help the poor? Didn't we build beautiful churches in your name and in your name work to better our communities?" "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers'" (Matthew 7:23 NIV1984). For they were wolves in sheep's clothing. On the outside all looked good, but don't believe the false disguises.
How can we watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing? Jesus points us to fruit trees to teach us. Notice in this illustration both the good and the bad trees produce fruit. That picture of disguise and deceptions continues. Both kinds of trees look the same. They're covered in leaves with fruit growing. But you bite into the fruit and the difference is clear. The good tree produces good, nutritious fruit. But the fruit from the bad tree sickens and evens kills. "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:20 NIV1984).
The fruit that a teacher or prophet produces are the lessons they teach and the words they speak. Does their teaching line up with the Bible? Are they proclaiming he same truth that Jesus came into this world to reveal? If so, they are true teachers of the word. If not, then they are wolves in sheep's clothing. Don't believe their false disguise, no matter how good it looks. Rather practice the truth Jesus brings. In other words, believe his truth and only his truth.
For you see, the truth Jesus reveals is his promise, his promise of full and free forgiveness through his blood sacrificed on the cross for you. You heard that promise once again in the Second Lesson today: "[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:23-25 NIV1984).
What a promise Jesus reveals! "You, sinner, are freely justified before God because I have ransomed you. My blood pays for your sins." That's the truth Jesus speaks to you, dear friend. How do we put this promise into practice? How do we practice Jesus' truth? By believing it. That's what a promise calls for. A promises calls for faith. And the power and faithfulness of the one who has made the promise kindles that faith in our hearts. Such faith feasts on the words of truth and flees from the bad fruit that sours our minds.
"Don't believe the false disguises. Believe my promise. Practice my truth," Jesus says to us. How we need to be on our guard! Just this past week I experienced an example of what we've been talking about. Someone was proclaiming God's Word talking about Jesus and his suffering. He even mentioned Jesus shedding his blood to atone for sin. I could hear the true Gospel. But then the fruit turned bad. He turned the Gospel from a promise of forgiveness into only a potential for forgiveness. He started quoting Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet" (Isaiah 1:18 KJV), but then he continued: they can be as white as snow. But the passage says they shall be as white as snow. Rather than speaking the Gospel promise of forgiveness, you only potentially had forgiveness. From the rest of what he said, he seemed to mean: You could be forgiven if you were converted and walk in Jesus' path. A conditional gospel is no gospel. That's not the truth Jesus reveals. That's not what the true Christian faith believes. Such a conditional gospel comes from a tree that will be cut down and thrown into fire as Jesus says, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."
"Practice my truth," Jesus says to you and me. You do that as your faith clings to the true Gospel alone. Don't believe the false disguises.
Now faith that believes the Gospel of full and free forgiveness in Jesus alone is like a small child that has just been told the good news that grandpa and grandma are coming with a bunch of presents. He can't sit still. He wants to know more. When will they get here? What are they bringing? How long are they staying? He keeps watching and anticipating. How eager he is! He even wants to help out so that all is ready when they come. That's faith. Faith doesn't sit still thinking, "I've heard the Gospel. I know I'm forgiven. So now I can get back to making my way through this world." That's building your life on sand.
Rather faith wants to know more. Faith wants to build our entire life on the solid rock of God's Word. Faith treasure the word of truth the Bible reveals. That's another way we practice Jesus' truth, by gladly hearing and learning it, building our lives on that sure foundation of the Scriptures, growing in the knowledge of his Word so that we can distinguish between right, true, soud doctrine and bad fruit.
Faith is eager and busy doing good. It can't sit still. It not only hears the word of God; it puts it into practice. Faith believes God's promises and desires to obey his law doing his will.
Faith realizes that building on the sure foundation of God's rock-solid word carries it's challenges. How much easier it looks to build on the nice sand at the foot of the cliff, rather than hauling everything up to the solid rock. But faith trusts that no matter how steep the paths of life are, Jesus' truth will not fail us. His truth stands firm.
So faith and life that's built on the rock-solid foundation of God's Word will also stand firm. Such faith and life stand firm even though troubles rain down and problems rise up like a flood and death itself blows hard against us. Rather than give up or find a different foundation, faith eagerly awaits and anticipates our Savior's return, confident that his word stands firm forever. What a sure foundation!
Jesus closes his Sermon on the Mount with that vivid picture. Don't be among those who only hear his word. Rather hear his word and put it into practice. Now what does it mean to practice his truth? It means both to believe his promises and to live out that faith every moment of your life eager to obey his commands. Build on the sure foundation. "Practice my truth," Jesus' says.
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built is house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (Matthew 7:26, 27 NIV1984). Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.