Sunday, August 7, 2022

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 7:15-23


Trinity 8

Mt 7:15-23



          Each Sunday you can look on the back of the bulletin insert and see the Scripture readings for the day.  Now, as most of you know, these are not Scripture texts that I have chosen. Instead, they come from the lectionary.  The Latin world lectio means reading, and so the lectionary is simply a list of appropriate Scripture readings that are assigned for each Sunday, and all the feast days of the Church year.  The lectionary is part of the catholic heritage of the Church. At the time of the Reformation, Lutherans simply continued to use what the Church in that area of Europe had already been using for centuries.

          Each Scripture reading is known as a pericope.  This comes from a Greek word that means “to cut out,” which is a very appropriate description because it is a short section of Scripture that has been cut out of the larger whole for consideration that day.

          Since the Scripture reading – the pericope – has been cut out of a larger whole, in order to understand the text more fully we often need to look at what has preceded it, and what follows.  That certainly is the case today.

          Our Gospel lesson today comes from the end of Jesus’ Sermon the Mount.  Near the beginning of the sermon, Jesus says, “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.” As you are probably aware Jesus then provides direction about what this looks like.

          Just before our text, our Lord has said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  This is the last statement in the sermon that talks about how we are to live.  It is a significant one, because Jesus says that all of the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament can be summarized in this way. In addition to loving God with all that we are, this is what it is really all about.

          Then, in the verses just before our text, Jesus 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 Jesus’ day, the gate was the goal of a journey. You entered into a city through the gate.  Our Lord is talking about the final goal of the Last Day. What he says should catch our attention.  He says the way to judgment and destruction is easy, and that many will go that way.  However, the way that leads to life is hard, and that those who find it are few.

We want everyone to be saved.  Yet we look around us and see a world where it seems as if more and more people are embracing sinful ways that reject God’s will.  We don’t want this.  We seek to work against it by speaking the truth in love. But our Lord shares a reality that we simply have to accept.  He says that those who enter through the narrow gate that leads to life are few.  Now certainly the total number is not few. But when compared to those who follow the way that leads to death, the number is smaller.

In our text then, Jesus warns about something that can lead us away from the way that leads to life.  He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  Our Lord tells us that there are false prophets.  The problem is that outwardly they look perfectly acceptable.  Nobody shows up in wearing a sign that says, “False prophet.” But while they look perfectly fine, Jesus warns that inwardly they are those who bring harm.

There will be false prophets. They are a threat that can lead us away from the way that leads to life. So how can we tell?  How can we identify them?  Our Lord answers: “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.”

Jesus says that you will know them by their fruits – by what they produce.  Since Jesus is talking about prophets, their fruit is their teaching.  And of course, in turn, their teaching leads to results in life.

Our world is filled with false prophets.  There are the false prophets of our culture – those who speak through media, entertainment, and academia.  And there are false prophets in what claims to be the Church.  Remember, the false prophets in the days of the Old Testament were all those who appeared to be true representatives of God.  Yet we hear God say through Jeremiah in the Old Testament reading, “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.’”

          There is no place where this is more apparent in our world today than in the Sixth Commandment.  The false prophets say that you are free to do anything you want with your body.  Sex outside of marriage is simply part of dating.  Living together when not married is normal.  Homosexuality is just a different kind of love. 

And of course since sex was created by God to produce children – that’s what it often does.  But the false prophets say a baby should not inconvenience your free use of sex, so abortion – the killing of that baby – is your right. In the near future the murder of those babies will begin in Carbondale, just about sixteen miles down the road from us.

Jeremiah says that the false prophets of his day despised the Word of the Lord. The same thing in true in our own.  How do you identify the false prophets?  You test what they have to say against the Word of God – against the inspired Scriptures. When you do so it cannot be more obvious that these all violate God’s will. And then, you can also look at the fruit it produces. You can see the destruction of the family.  You can see the inability of individuals to form lasting, permanent relationships. You can see children deprived of a father or a mother.

These are words of warning to us.  We know that we ourselves are not free from sin when it comes to the Sixth Commandment. Jesus has already said in chapter five, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We all have lust in our heart.  Then on top of this, are we ourselves engaging in the sins I have just mentioned?  Or are we being influenced by the false prophets as we become accepting of these things, or even approve of them?

In our text, 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.” Simply claiming to be a Christian is no guarantee that you will enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.  Instead, Jesus says that we must do the will of the Father who is in heaven.

What is this will?  Jesus announced it when he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  First, it is that we confess our sinfulness - every way it occurs. We confess our sin and seek to turn away from it.  And then, we believe in the One through whom the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – has entered into our midst.

When the angel announced to Joseph that Mary was pregnant he said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus Christ, true God and true man, had come to bring God’s reign that frees us from sin, death and the devil.  He did this by dying on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins.  Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus died for us and was buried.  But on the third day God raised him from the dead.  He defeated death and began the future that will be ours when he returns in glory on the Last Day and raises us up.  All who recognize their sin in repentance and believe in Jesus already have this salvation. At the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in the First Beatitude Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

The kingdom of heaven – the saving reign of God – is already yours now because you have been baptized.  Your sins have been washed away and God has put his name on you.  He has made you his own.  You are a child of God.

There is great joy and assurance in this.  But there also is a challenge - after all Jesus says, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Jesus describes in our text the challenges posed by false prophets.

So what are we to do?  In the verses just after our text, Jesus brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close.  He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Then our Lord contrast this with the opposite response: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

          The hearing to which Jesus refers includes understanding and believing.  We listen to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and recognize that they are directed to us who believe in the crucified and risen Lord.  Baptized into Christ, hearing his Word, and receiving his true body and blood in the Sacrament we are those who have received God’s saving reign and are sustained in it.  Because this is true, we then seek to live in the ways Jesus describes – ways that show Christ in our life and bring glory to the Father.

          Will we do this perfectly? No.  But it is here that we continue to do the will of the Father. We repent. We confess our sin and turn away from it. And then we turn again in faith to the forgiveness Jesus Christ has won for us.  Strengthened by God’s Spirit, we return to the goal of doing what Jesus has said. Is this an easy way? No. But it is the way that leads to life because it is lived through faith in Jesus.



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