“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: False prophets sneak into the fold of the Christian faithful, seeking to bite and kill and destroy. Beware of those who claim spiritual authority and speak to you of spiritual stuff. As your pastor, I charge you in Jesus’ name to listen carefully to what I preach and teach you, for even in the case of a faithful servant, I may lead you away from the green grasses and quiet waters of God’s Word. So put my words to the test: am I speaking from God’s Word, reading, and faithfully applying it for your sake in a cross-centered, Christ-focused manner? Even if I were to say something to you in error through the accident of misspeaking (as I know that I have done), you do well to mark it, and bring it to me that I may repent of the error and correct it at our next Service. This is important!
From this text I also sternly warn and charge you to take heed to all those other voices who would speak of spiritual things to you. Do not allow strangers you hear and see in the media, or who may come among you in your daily life to get away with spiritual sounding stuff that perverts and twists God’s Word, or imports demonic teachings from strange religions and philosophies, lest you be beguiled and led astray, and so wander from the flock in which our Good Shepherd has kept you. Be on guard, dear Christian, for you must take care always to listen for your Master’s Voice, that is, the Voice of Jesus, and only follow Him. Do not allow appearances to deceive you, as it is easy to put on sheep’s clothing; but listen to what is being taught, and, if it is not centered in the grace of Jesus, do not follow such a one!
So far, you may have expected what I have proclaimed today. But our Gospel reading is not only about how you must judge all who claim spiritual authority to teach. It is also about your own dealings and doings. Jesus teaches us about the false prophet, but then he also teaches us about those who do things in His Name, whom He does not know, and rejects.
This may very well be describing you. In fact, this calls for a second sermon for us all to hear and to heed:
Grace to you, and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
“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.’
This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: Yes, today we get a two-fer. You may already have known well how you must take care to judge those who would teach you spiritual things, but what about the things you are doing in your own life, which, whether you realize it or not, you do for spiritual purposes? Jesus plainly teaches that there are those who will be tragically surprised that their “many mighty works”, even those they thought they were doing in His Name, result in the pronouncement of Divine rejection “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
I had a small taste of this myself, years ago, as I worked as the assistant to one of the owners of a business. As he was going to be away for a few days, the boss left me a short list of things to do, if I had time, after taking care of my routine responsibilities. On his first day away, I received data for him, and decided that I could develop a report with simple graphics on sales and inventory and so forth, and I even worked up seasonal projections. I wound up working the better part of a couple of days, and I was proud, when he returned, to show him what I had been doing.
His response was less than gratifying. “This is interesting, but I didn’t tell you do do any of this!” And then he noted that none of the things on my list had been completed. A few weeks later, rather than receiving a promotion, I was let go. My works were unacceptable, because they were not what I had been under orders to do.
I fear that many of us are habitually guilty of doing something like this when it comes to the sort of things we seek to do in Jesus’ Name. I must warn you that our culture around us, and our own sinful and fallen nature continually encourage us to attempt to please our Lord with works He has not asked us to do. The subtle philosophies around us urge us to spend our time distancing ourselves from the ordinary duties of life, through forms of exercise, or the practice of stillness, to focus on inner spiritual enlightenment. We defend our practice, claiming that such spiritual meditation is surely good! But where has Jesus asked you, through exercise, or stillness, to open yourself to supposedly enlightened inner spiritual wisdom? Indeed, doesn’t He rather charge you to meditate on His Word night and day? Not an emptying, but an intentional filling of your heart and mind through feasting on every Word of the Lord! In fact, such pursuits come not from Jesus, but from the false religions of the East, Hindu and Buddhist practices which these days hold natural appeal to fallen minds— that through such martial or physical exertions or silencing, you should make yourself better.
In fact what you may be doing is opening yourself to the voice of that one who thought he should take the place of the Creator and led a rebellion in heaven, and was cast down. Ever since, the devil has been suggesting this thing or that practice or that device whereby you may be made as a god yourself, knowing good and evil. But such enlightenment from the beginning has only ever resulted in disastrous falling and shame.
Or you may have pursued a special program of good works by doing things which are purported to help yourself and others, which are nowhere approved or commanded you in God’s Word. I am reminded of a film I saw not many months ago, of a father who pursued a long pilgrimage, leaving his family, business, and community to obtain peace after the untimely death of his son. He supposed that by it, he would be made a better Christian, and that in time those who were bewildered by his rather abrupt absence would benefit also. But where are such things in God’s Word?
We are encouraged to do all manner of things, yes, in Jesus’ Name!, by our flesh, and by the world around us. But are these things from Jesus? Or do you think that you would make for Him a delightful surprise? Did you not know that all things that are, He has created? Did you not know that He already has set before you such things are pleasing to Him, and good for you as well? No, as the prophet Jeremiah has written: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Do not wander into all the bright shiny ideas of what should please God which come from your flesh, or the fallen world around you. There is no reason to adopt the supposedly good works of pagans, who do not know the true God, in order to please Him.
Stick to the old paths. God calls you to Himself, as we have sung in today’s Psalm “We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your Temple.” As the people of old looked forward to the Coming Redeemer, and so gathered in His House to Hear His Word, so we, to whom the Redeemer, Jesus has come, are gathered in His House and here feast on His Word and rejoice in His Means of Grace. Here we are shown the mercy of the Lord, and our salvation. Here we receive His promise, and His ongoing forgiveness, life, and salvation.
And if you would know what pleases God, to do it, as His Good Spirit enables both the desire, will, and ability in you, then consider your life according to the Ten Commandments, and serve your neighbor according to your vocation, as father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, worker, student, neighbor, and so on. Here you see, and not through some exotic form of stretching or sitting or pilgrimage or other way of avoiding the world, Jesus would have you live in the midst of and engage one another in His good hope and joy and pleasure. Repent of the special stuff you may have been doing, and return, rather, to the most brilliant, most gracious, most divine form of living which to the world looks dull and boring. But which you know from hearing God’s Word and receiving His Grace, is His work in and through your living and being as His beloved, that the lost and dying might yet see and wonder at the hope that is in you for Jesus’ sake.
And know, dear one, that for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven all those bright ideas and foolish philosophies and disciplines which have so annoyingly keeping you from the House of the Lord, and from your joyful service toward your neighbor. Yes, you are forgiven all your sin, even those you supposed were your good works! And you are restored again to the grace and favor of Jesus. He loves you, and by His grace, on the Last Day will know you, and welcome you into His Kingdom forevermore.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, mount guard and keep watch over your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.