It really never ceases to amaze me. For all of the time and effort that it is put into the internet trying to use it to help people and make life better, it seems like there is as much effort put into trying to use the internet to steal and harm people.
We all have firewalls on our computers and security software that is constantly being updated. They run regular scans on our computers because there is a never ending stream of viruses and other nasty things that are floating around in the internet, just waiting to get into your computer and mess things up. Those threats exist because there are people out there working all the time to create new ones. Just imagine all the good that could be done if they spent that time trying to create helpful contributions!
And then there are the phishing scams. You know how these work. The scammer sends out an email that claims to come from a bank, credit card company or business. It says that they are following up on some kind of security breach and provide an internet link so that you can go to their website and learn more about whether you have been compromised.
If you use the link, it takes you to a website that looks almost exactly like the real thing. There you are asked to enter some information such as your account number. If you are rushed or distracted; if you are flustered out of concern that your information may have been compromised it is easy to look at the website and think it is legitimate. It is easy to go ahead and enter your information.
But of course, although the website looks almost exactly like the real one for that company – it’s not. It’s a fake that’s been carefully created to lure in people and steal their information. But because the appearance seems so “right” people proceed and enter their information all the time. And just a few key strokes sets in motion something that can take multiple phone calls and a great deal of time and frustration in order to fix.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus describes the very same situation as he warns believers about false prophets. By all appearances they seem to be fine Christians who have great insight to share. Yet appearances are deceiving because what they actually bring is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our text this morning is part of the conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has summarized much of the teaching with a statement about the Law and the Prophets that matches how he began the sermon and brackets the material. He says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Next, in the verses just before our text he says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” In the ancient world, you encountered a gate at the end of your way. Roads led to cities and very often you entered through a gate in the city’s wall.
Jesus is telling us to walk in the path of repentance and faith in him. For walking in this way leads to the gate – to the goal. It leads to the Last Day when Christ will return and raise up our bodies.
Recently Connie Clampitt was at the LWML national convention in Pittsburgh, PA. While she enjoyed the city, she reported that she was struck by the fact that it was hard to get around. If you have been to Pittsburgh you know that the city and the surrounding area are built at the bottom of valleys formed by setting of the Alleghenies. Space is at a premium and the roads are often narrow and winding.
Our Lord wants us to know that walking the way of faith is not easy. The easy way is the broad way – the “believe whatever you want” way. Jesus says that this is the way that leads to destruction and that there are many who travel that way. For you see there are challenges that hinder us from walking on the difficult and narrow way that leads to salvation.
In our text Jesus identifies one of the great challenges that prevents people from walking on the narrow way. He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Our Lord warns against false prophets. Now the problem is that these false prophets appear to be perfectly harmless. Jesus says they are in sheep’s clothing. And there is really more to it than that. Not only do they look harmless, they actually look helpful! They may be able to do things that seem to be God at work.
The second half of our text warns that not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, there are false prophets who will say on the day of judgment, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Jesus tell us that he will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
By all appearances these false prophets looked to be the real thing. Jesus doesn’t deny that they did many mighty things in his name. He simply replies: “I never knew you.”
On the surface they look great. So what is this bad fruit they produce? Why do their mighty works count as nothing before Jesus? The answer is to be found in our Lord’s statement, “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.”
Jesus makes clear that to do the will of the Father is to repent and believe in Jesus. It is to believe in the Son of God who gave his life as the ransom for many on the cross. It is to believe in the Son of God who rose from the dead on third day and has been vindicated as the Lord who possesses all authority. It is to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. It is to receive his true body and blood in remembrance of him.
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Jesus isn’t very politically correct. He’s not tolerant of sin, unbelief and false teaching. It just doesn’t fly with him. In fact if that is the way you want to roll, his answer on the Last Day will be the same one that we hear addressed to the false prophets: “I never knew you.”
The challenge for us is whether we are ready to accept this. Are we willing to confess as sin the hate, and lust, and lack of forgiveness that is in our own heart? Are we willing to speak the truth of God’s ordering of this world to others when it contradicts what they are doing? Are we willing to confess and share the good news of Jesus with others – and to proclaim it as the exclusive word that admits no other?
Because if you are, then recognize that you are stepping out on a narrow and difficult way. It is going to be hard. The world is going to call you intolerant, and puritanical, and homophobic, and a host of other names. It will mock your faith and way of life.
The invitation of the false prophet will be the easier way. It will be the way that attempts to fit into the world. It will be the way that sidesteps confessing Jesus Christ in all of his scandalous exclusivity. It will be the way the puts reason in charge when it comes to Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar – the way that says they are merely symbols by which we show our commitment to Jesus and fellowship with others.
Yet when you hear those temptations, remember Jesus’ words in our text: “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.” The will of the Father is the difficult and narrow way. But it is also the way that leads to the narrow gate at the end of the way. It is the way that leads to resurrection and eternal life.
We know that it is because Jesus has already walked that way. He went to the cross to die for us. And then on the third day he rose from the dead. Because of his resurrection we know that the narrow gate awaits us. And we know that it leads into life as it was meant to be – resurrected life in the new creation with Jesus.
Jesus calls us to ignore all of the false prophets who claim to come in his name, and yet would deceive us. Instead, we are to listen to his word. Instead, we are to do the will of the Father as we confess our sin and repent. We are to do the will of the Father as we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. We are to do the will of the Father was we receive his faith sustaining gifts of the Means of Grace: the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.
Where we do this, something else will happen through the work of Christ’s Spirit. As we receive the reign of God through Christ’s Means of Grace, the Spirit will move us more and more to live in the ways of Jesus.
I mentioned that just before our text Jesus brought the main section of the Sermon on the Mount to a close with the words: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Living by love in Christ we fulfill what God’s Old Testament word was all about. Having received God’s love in Christ we share this love. This really isn’t rocket science. It’s really not hard to figure out. Think how you want to be treated in any given situation ... and then do that for others.
When we do this, people will see that we are on the narrow way. And that is exactly what we should want. For as Jesus said earlier in this sermon, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”