15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Theme and parts:
“Beware of False Prophets”
I. You will Recognize them by their Fruits (15-20)
II. Do the will of your Father in Heaven (21-23)
Dear fellow redeemed,
Last week I had the privilege of conducting the wedding ceremony for my younger sister. That ceremony took place at a sister congregation of ours. That congregation has the same policy for pastors conducting a service in their facility as we do: the pastor must be of our fellowship – a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Had I not been a member of our fellowship, I would not have been allowed to conduct that wedding. The reason for this is that the congregation wants to make sure that any pastor who teaches in their facility and services only teaches what God’s Word says and does not deviate from God’s Word in the least. Our fellowship instructs our pastors in the entire Word of God and insists they teach correctly each doctrine in the Word of God. Many people view such a policy as “strict,” and by “strict” they mean “harsh” and “unkind.” Our churches are different than most. We are some of the few who strive to oppose any teaching that goes against Scripture and teach our people to actively avoid those who teach any spiritual falsehood. Most people view this as unreasonable, but our Lord Jesus teaches us the importance of such things in our Gospel lesson today. Beware of false prophets; recognize them by their fruits and do the will of your Father in heaven.
Our Savior has warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” A false prophet is a teacher who perverts the Word of God by proclaiming a false message. Sometimes those false prophets claim to have received new visions from God which contradict the Bible. Sometimes those false prophets simply distort what the Bible actually says. In either case, we recognize them by their fruits, by their false teaching.
Such false teachers come to God’s people with the appearance of godliness. They come “in sheep’s clothing.” They claim the title Christian. They appear gentle, like sheep. Yet, they do great harm.
Whether they sincerely believe what they teach or know that it is false, they are “ravenous wolves.” A ravenous wolf devours the sheep. False teaching harms faith and can devour it. Some false teachings instantly destroy faith if they are believed, like the denial that Jesus is true God. Some false teachings might not destroy faith in every case but certainly have the potential to do so, like the denial of the power of the Sacraments.
See then the danger. False teaching always harms faith. The truth of God’s Word gives faith, and strengthens faith, and sustains faith. False teaching chips away at faith and can destroy it. All false teaching is harmful. Beware of false prophets.
See how Jesus illustrates these things. “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.”
To recognize false prophets by the fruit of their false teaching, you must compare what they teach to Scripture. You don’t identify a false prophet by whether or not he is pleasant, or does kind things for others, or is sincere. If he teaches anything contrary to God’s unchanging Word, he is a false prophet. You recognize him by his fruit, just as bad fruit reveals a bad tree. This requires that we learn God’s Word and that we compare what we are taught with God’s Word. Always check what you are being taught against Scripture. If that teacher is deviating from Scripture, beware.
What happens to a tree that brings forth bad fruit? “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This is the end of false teaching – hell itself. This is the punishment for those who distort God’s Word. In this instance, Jesus compares the unbelieving false prophet, the bad tree, with the believer, the good tree. If someone knowingly opposes God’s Word, they have no faith.
There are also false prophets who are Christians. In a dangerous inconsistency, they unknowingly teach falsely and so retain faith in Christ in their heart. This is why we recognize that there are many Christians even in denominations that have some falsehood. However, that falsehood is dangerous both to the teacher and the hearer and can destroy their faith and does destroy faith in many instances. This is why it is vital to oppose falsehood even from Christian sources and to beware of false teachers even if they may be Christians.
Christ says, “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Scripture teaches us how to combat falsehood. First, Jesus instructs us in John chapter 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We are to abide in the Word of Jesus – all of it. Second, St. Paul instructs us in Romans 16 to “avoid” those who teach falsely. That’s how we “beware” of them.
These are the things of “the doctrine of church fellowship.” Church fellowship refers to coming together to worship and to use the Means of Grace. Because false teaching is harmful to people’s souls, the Bible commands us to not fellowship with – not to worship with, or pray with, or receive the Sacraments from – those who teach any falsehood.
All this because Jesus tells you to beware of false prophets. All this is not because we think we are better than others but because we are trying to protect people’s souls from the danger of false teaching. False teaching poisons faith; adhering to the Bible’s teachings on church fellowship protects us from receiving that poison. Avoid false teachings. Fellowship only with those who teach the pure Word. Then your faith and the faith of others will be protected.
False teaching is contrary to God’s will, but we desire to do the will of our Father in heaven. That includes avoiding false prophets. Jesus said, “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.” Just because someone claims the title of Christian, does not mean that they are. This is yet another reason for practicing church fellowship on the basis of what people teach. Many churches bear the title Christian and yet contain falsehood to one degree or another. That falsehood can be faith destroying so that you are left with someone who uses Jesus’ name with their lips but does not trust in Jesus with their heart.
It is a sin against God’s will to teach falsely. Any denial of what Scripture teaches is a sin. Whether it’s denial of Jesus as true God, the teaching of creation in six days, infant baptism, or the doctrine of church fellowship – that denial is a grievous sin against God.
We are blessed to be a part of a church body that insists on full purity to the Word. That does make our fellowship different. Yet, that does not mean we have been free from sin. Far from it. When we waver in standing up for the truth, we sin against God’s will. The teaching of church fellowship is exceedingly unpopular. That makes it all the more easy for us to hide it from others or ignore it in our daily lives. We can so easily be embarrassed by the uncomfortable teachings of the Bible, or secretly oppose them, or fail to teach those hard truths to others. This opposes God’s will; it is sin.
So how can we be “the one who does the will of my Father”? What is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is that you be saved. He sent His own Son to save you. This was the will of Christ too. Christ Jesus has perfectly handled the truth of God’s Word. Not once was He uncomfortable with it. Not once did He fail to proclaim it for personal comfort’s sake or any other reason. He has perfectly handled false prophets and God’s Word and God’s will.
It is God’s will that your sin be forgiven. So, Christ Jesus has taken that perfect life and sacrificed it as the offering to pay for your sin. His blood has atoned for your sin. His blood has removed your guilt. In Christ, you are forgiven. This wondrous forgiveness is poured out upon you through God’s Word and Sacraments and is received by faith.
In our text, Jesus continued to speak of those who claimed His name but did not have faith in Him. “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?’” You see, this is the “sheep’s clothing” that deceives many: claiming to teach in Jesus’ name when one is actually teaching falsehood. Don’t be deceived. Many unbelieving false prophets will use the name of Jesus; many unbelieving false prophets will perform deceptive tricks; some unbelieving false prophets may perform actual works of power by the power of Satan himself. Compare their teaching to the Word. Follow God’s will. Beware of false prophets.
Jesus tells us the sad fate of those who have no faith but only false teaching. “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Sin is lawlessness – breaking God’s law. The most fatal work of lawlessness is to pervert God’s Word and teach others that perversion.
This is also why practicing church fellowship properly is an act of love for our fellow Christians who are caught up in false teaching congregations. By not fellowshipping with those congregations, we are bearing witness to the danger they are in. The most loving thing you can do for someone in danger is to direct them to flee from that danger and help them to do so, no matter how personally uncomfortable that may be. Others are in desperate need of learning to beware of false prophets. It is God’s will that they too be rescued from falsehood. Follow His will.
Hear what Christ says to those who trust in Him. All those who believe in Jesus Christ as their only Savior from the penalty from sin will hear these words on the last day. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). This is God’s saving will for you and for others.
Dear friends, wedding vows include the promise that the bride and groom will be exclusively committed to each other. Would you witness such vows and think this exclusive commitment was unreasonably harsh? Of course not! You recognize the beauty. You don’t call it “strict” but rather “faithful” because “faithful” has no negative connotation. You know that in that faithfulness of husband and wife to each other their relationship is protected and their life together is blessed. The same is true for the Church and Christ. Faithfulness to Christ’s teaching protects us from harm and in Christ’s teaching we are blessed. Beware of false prophets. They will have the appearance of godliness but you can recognize them by the fruits of their teaching. They oppose the will of our Father in heaven but we strive to do that will. Praise be to God that Christ our perfect Prophet keeps us in the saving truth of His perfect Word. Amen.