“You will know them by their fruits” Trinity 8 2022

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07. August 2022

Trinity 8

Matthew 7:15-21

“And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mt. 7:28)

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

How do you know whom to listen to? How do you know whom to trust? Can you trust your instinct, your gut? Can you give everyone the benefit of the doubt? With access to unlimited information, how do you determine what is good, right, and true? The breadth and depth of human observation can be overwhelming. You could spend your days trying to learn everything there is to know and never even scratch the surface.

God has given everyone curiosity and directs it with wisdom. You can’t know everything about everything. But you can come to know some things and know them well. This is what the productivity experts call the “10,000-hour rule.” Apply yourself with focus and diligence to a task for 10,000 hours, and barring an insurmountable limitation, you’ll develop mastery. Of course, with only 24 hours in a day, you’ll not gain this mastery in everything you do. So, choose wisely how you spend your God-given time.

 What do you do with everything else you need to know? You defer to others–their knowledge and wisdom. You might look to the letters after their name—MD, Ph.D., DVM, CPA, JD, or M.Div. These credentials are earned and given to those who have demonstrated aptitude in their respective fields. Except the letters have been corrupted by lax standards, buy-a-degree colleges, imposters, and frauds. You might look to their titles—Reverend, President, the Honorable, and Sir/Madame. But titles can be given to those who don’t deserve it or who have paid to join the club. 

You might give those with credentials and title your trust at first until they demonstrate a lack of trustworthiness by their words and actions. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what title comes before their name or what letters come after it. Your trust in them is earned and sustained by consistently speaking and doing what is good, right, and true. You’ll seek another opinion. You’ll fire the incompetent. You’ll terminate the contract. You’ll shut off the TV. You’ll close the book. You’ll put away the phone or delete the app. Or will you?

You’ll continue to elect and follow leaders who lead you into physical poverty, wars and rumors of wars, and legalized moral decadence and depravity. You’ll keep listening to lies and the liars who propagate them. You trust the untrustworthy because the alternative is harder. You might have to do the work, step up to take the place of the incompetent, or step out into risk without a safety net. You don’t want to put in the effort to learn or to take the risk of failure needed. Instead, for fear, you’ll sit back, suffer and complain, and say, “That’s just the way things are, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. ”

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” But will you? Jesus’s warning about false prophets pierces deep into your spiritual apathy and laziness. Just like your treat natural knowledge, so with the revelation of God in Christ Jesus’s Word. God the Father has commanded you to listen to Jesus. Jesus speaks to you by the Scriptures, the Spirit-breathed authoritative Word. You are given by God to be an expert in His Word, dedicating your whole life to its pursuit, far exceeding the 10,000-hour rule. And God has promised to bless you and those entrusted to your care by this diligent and attentive catechesis.

As God spoke to Moses, “You shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always…you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:1,18-19),

There is no other prophet, guru, rabbi, or imam sent by God and given by God to speak to you the words of eternal life. There is no other than Jesus, who shows you the Way, speaks only the Truth, and is the source of Life. And He wants you to listen to Him, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word daily. If you need titles, Jesus has those, too—Son of God, Son of David, Messiah, Only-Begotten, Root, Branch, Star, etc. 

But you would instead defer to other people with titles and letters after their name. You would leave the reading, meditation, learning, and expertise in the Word of God to others. You say you’re not a theologian, but you lie to yourself. Everyone is a theologian, that is, has words to say about God. Those words you say about God have been informed by all those with titles and letters after their names. You put your trust in them, and so neglect the careful and thorough diligence God has given you. Better to have your studies been with Jesus, the fountain and source of all that is good, right, and true, than to think of God according to your own corrupt heart’s desires or the imagination of others. 

Heresy, that is, a belief that is obviously contrary to the doctrine of the Scriptures, is easy to spot. Those who preach such falsehood or obviously wolves. Even a child, armed with no more than the Catechism’s Six Chief Parts—the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Word of the Lord regarding Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, is equipped to know better and defend himself against all heresies. This includes those who deny that God is triune. Likewise, it includes those who deny Jesus as true God and true Man, both plainly taught in the Word and confessed in the Creeds. Even a child armed with the Catechism’s confession will easily tell you why those who profess to be Christians, such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarian Universalists, are heretics who believe, teach, and confess contrary to God’s Word. 

But today, Jesus is warning you false prophets who a far more dangerous, for they appear harmless. False prophets don’t advertise themselves as false prophets. They don’t appear as wolves. They appear as sheep. They wear the clothing of sheep. They portray themselves as faithful insiders who are defending the truth from error. The claim to come in the Lord’s name, preaching and teaching the Lord’s Words. They have all the requisite training, titles, and credentials.  Their church building says Christian or even Lutheran. How would you know if they were lying to you? How would you know if they’re actually a wolf or a bad tree? 

Jesus tells you, “You will know them by their fruits.” A true prophet preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s shed blood. A false prophet tells you to justify, rationalize, or overlook sin. A true prophet preaches justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. A false prophet tells you to live a holy life by following rules and regulations, to be a good person in order to be saved. A true prophet only preaches what he has been given to speak from the Word of God. Without your intentional study of God’s Word, you’ll never know if everything this preacher preached and this congregation confesses is good, right, and true. The solid rock upon which the Church is built are the words of Jesus. Let us all commit to the diligent and patient study of God’s Word. Everything else is sinking sand. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin