Sunday, July 30, 2023

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


Trinity 8

                                                                                      Mt 7:15-23



          David Koresh was the spiritual leader of the Branch Davidians, the group that was located near Waco, TX.  Koresh was not the founder of the group, but he managed to advance himself into the position of leadership over time.  He was able to do this because he had a persuasive personality that was grounded in the confidence that he was God’s chosen instrument.  Koresh combined this with a prodigious knowledge of Scripture – reportedly he had large portions of it memorized.

          Koresh taught the Branch Davidians that their compound was the Davidic kingdom and that it would be at the center of God’s end time work.  He predicted that this would be a great conflagration which would fulfill the Book of Revelation. The Branch Davidians prepared for this by amassing a large arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

          Koresh led the Branch Davidians to believe that he was a manifestation of God – a Messiah figure predicted for the Last Days.  As such, he claimed to have a special authority.  In time he said that all marriages in the group were dissolved and that all the women could be his “wives.” 

          Eventually the ATF investigated the illegal weapons possessed by the Branch Davidians and launched a raid in 1993 that resulted in a gun battle in which four agents were killed.  The raid was a failure and a 51 day stand off ensued.  Eventually the FBI’s attempt to breach the compound and end the situation resulted in a fire that killed 79 Branch Davidians – including many children.  Koresh himself died of a gunshot wound to the head.

          It’s not hard to conclude that David Koresh was a false prophet.  He is certainly a spectacular example.  But our Lord warns us in our Gospel lesson that false prophets are not always so easy to spot.  Instead, he says that they often come to us in appearances that look harmless.  Because this is so, we must be on our guard as we examine the fruit that they produce – the teaching that they share.

          Our text is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has just said, “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, the gate was the entrance to a city.  It was the goal of a trip.  It was the destination.  Christ teaches us that we must be aware about the final outcome of our life.  He warns that the way that leads to destruction is wide and easy.  It’s not hard to go in the way of sin.  It’s not hard to walk in the way of the world.  And sure enough, many follow this path that leads to destruction.

          In our text, Jesus warns us about a threat that can lead us on the way to judgment.  He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  The danger of false prophets is that they often don’t appear to be false prophets. The David Koresh’s of the world are not hard to spot – he was a nut job who said a place outside of Waco, TX was the center of God’s end time plan. But the false prophets Jesus describes are far more deceptive.  They have the appearance of being harmless, when in fact they are spiritually deadly.

          How then do we recognize false prophets?  Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  You can look at what they produce and this will reveal their character. Jesus goes on to say, “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.”

          Our translation says “diseased tree,” but in Greek it is really a different word for bad.  You want to know what a bad tree looks like?  It’s a sweetgum tree.  Any of you who have had the misfortune of having one of these on your property will know what I mean.

          By all appearances the sweet gum tree looks like a good tree.  It grows well and quickly.  It gives shade. But the “fruit” that it produces is a prickly, hard sphere.  And it makes lots of them.  They serve no purpose for us. They are ugly. They are a pain to rake up and take away. They make you sorry the tree is there.

Jesus warns about false prophets: “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”  The fruit a false prophet produces is his teaching. It is the teaching, and in turn the results that this produces in the lives of those who receive it.

Our world is filled with false prophets.  They appear to be harmless because they are found among those who identify themselves as “church.”  They talk about love and acceptance and what could be better than that?  But what they accept breaks the God’s law.  They lead people on a path to destruction.

We live in a world that says you can use sexuality in any way that you want.  But it’s not merely the world.  There are churches who openly embrace and promote this.  They fly the rainbow flag as they advertise that they accept homosexuality.  They accept the belief that a man can be a woman, and a woman can be a man.

And at the same time, there is an even more insidious false prophecy.  It is the false prophecy of action when a church no longer cares whether people are breaking the Sixth Commandment. This is announced not with a rainbow flag, but with a wedding ceremony.  The man and woman living together are married in the church as if cohabitation was a good and God pleasing thing.

This is nothing new.  It is old as Israel.  Jeremiah complains about the false prophets in our Old Testament lesson. He says, “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.’”

Simply speaking the name of Christ does not make one a Christian.  Jesus says 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.”  He says that people who claimed to have done things in Jesus’ name will be in for a surprise when Christ says, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

What matters then is doing the will of the Father.  What is the will of the Father?  It is to repent and believe in the One he has sent.  Jesus began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He came to call sinners to repentance. 

Jesus calls us to repentance.  The problem with Sixth Commandment false prophets is that they fail to listen to God’s Word.  They ignore the parts of Scripture that contradict our culture.  Yet we must be careful that we are not doing the same thing in other areas.  We must listen to the whole Law of God. 

Just before our text Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Christ summarizes the second table of the Law with his statement that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated.  But do we?  Do we defend the reputation of others?  Do we explain things in the kindest way?

Do we condemn those who break the Sixth Commandment, while at the same time breaking it ourselves in other ways?  You think homosexuality is sinful.  Well and good.  But do you look at the pornography in which the internet is awash?  Do you pursue lustful thoughts, ignoring the fact Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Doing the will of the Father requires us to confess the sin in our life.  And then we believe in the One he has sent. The angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a Son who would “save his people from their sins.” That is why the Father sent the Son into the world.  Jesus came as the perfect substitute who died in our place.  That is the role that he took on in his baptism.  Christ suffered and died on the cross as he received God’s judgment against our sin.  He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as he bore God’s wrath that should have been ours.

Our sin brought judgment and death to Christ.  But that was not the end.  Buried in a tomb, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  By his resurrection Jesus has defeated death. His resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day.  Because Jesus has been raised we know that we have forgiveness and eternal life now, even as we look for our Lord’s return in glory and the resurrection he will share with us.

Already now this victory is ours.  Baptized into Christ we are the forgiven children of God.  The Spirit has made us a new creation. Therefore we receive Jesus words as the way we want to live.  Immediately after our text, Jesus concludes the Sermon by saying, 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.”

          By explaining the Law, Christ has taught us about how God has ordered his creation.  He has taught us how to live well – to live the life God intended. We will never be able to this perfectly, but through the work of the Spirit it is our goal to live in this way more and more.  This is the fruit produced by the Spirit within us.

          Jesus warns us this morning, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  False prophets come in ways that appear harmless and even helpful.  But they are temptations to enter through the wide gate and easy way that leads to destruction. 

          In our world some who claim to be church are false prophets as they accept behavior that breaks the Sixth Commandment. They ignore what God’s Word says in order to embrace the easy way of our culture.  This way leads to judgment and destruction.

          Christ calls us to test all teaching against the Word of God.  We test the teaching, and also test our own lives to see the sin that is present.  We do the will of the Father as we confess this sin and turn in faith to Christ.  And then through the Spirit’s continuing work in the baptized we seek to listen to Christ’s word and to do it.








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