14. August 2011
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Jesus himself commends us today in our Gospel to show great care and concern for the preachers you follow and the content of their preaching. Yes, its true! Not everyone who proclaims God’s Word share the same doctrine of the Holy Scriptures that has been confessed by the Christian church. Not every steward of the mysteries keeps the Gospel pure. Christ warns us to beware of false prophets. They are real. They may have all the appearances of being but a faithful Christian but in reality are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
You must take seriously the faithfulness of every teacher and preacher you follow. I don’t care if they stand in this pulpit, proclaim on the radio, smile their perfect teeth on TV, or dribble onto the latest bestseller, paper or electronic.
Everyone who claims to speak with God’s authority to you is your preacher. Everyone of them claims to expound for you the sacred mysteries of the LORD. No everyone of them is faithful. Not everyone of them subjects himself to the Word in reverence and fear. Not everyone of them seeks for you to know only the one who forgives, who took away your sins and the sins of the world. Some (and perhaps most) of what claims to be Christian is far from.
His caution is well-founded. Consider Christ’s analogy: If any bad trees are planted within the forests of young saplings, maturing trees, and majestic ancients, you know that their bad fruit may be too tempting for the weak and infect the soil, trunk, and air around the good, consuming them like a virus. Their infection will destroy the willing forest, dooming it to rot, decay, and the eternal fire. This is a real danger. Your faith, the faith of your children, the faith of this whole community is at stake.
“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.”
How do you judge these prophets? You know the nature of these trees by the fruits of their lips. Do they confess, the good fruit, Christ and Him crucified? Do the speak with the sweetness of the figs or grapes of the good tree of Jesus? Our Lord commends to us criteria to judge all those who claim to speak His Word. The criteria of faithfulness of the prophet is whether they do the will of the heavenly Father. This will is not simply the words of the mouth but also the actions born of my heart. We look to the public confession and also character and virtues. Some-of-the-wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing will say:
“‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
The kind of shepherd Jesus wants for his flock is one who not only preaches and teaches the Word of God but lives a godly life according to it. This is nothing less than he expects from every Christian. The lives of every Christian are a testament to the faith they have received and the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts. But he who is called to be shepherd of our Lord’s flock on earth has a special duty to attend to his outward life. He is the most public figure and greatest witness to the faith within the church.
Paul commended Timothy in his first epistle a number of virtues for those aspiring to the office of overseer in his letters to Titus and Timothy. (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:2-7) It is appropriate for that the church be concerned for the life of her pastors and teachers. Recent disgraces highlight the importance of being above reproach. A great disservice has been committed against the Gospel by those who call themselves pastor or priest and then lead lives in accordance with sin and not the Father’s will.
Men have coveted money and wife and as a result stolen from congregation and committed adultery. Other men have scandalized the Gospel with heinous sexual sin. Such public transgressions certainly disqualify a man for office. The qualifications for overseer are nothing less than the fruits of a sanctified life—a life where the Holy Spirit dwells and is active.
Ah ha! you say. The Scriptures give us a free pass to criticize our pastors! Not so fast. Judging can also be dangerous. Jesus is not suggesting we judge those who serve as pastor by petty matters such as the quality of their dress, the intellect or lack thereof, hobbies and interests, or even like-ability. Sometimes you expect more from your pastor for than Christ demands. This man serves as the steward of Christ for you. His faithfulness is all that matters.
It grieves me when pastor, congregation, and church are unjustly criticized for how they conduct themselves outwardly, and yet no one first asks why they do so. We don’t behave with reverence towards the Lord’s sanctuary, conduct ourselves in an orderly way with regular liturgy, or adopt and maintain pious practice towards the Lord Supper simply because we want to. We do these things not because we have to. We do them because of who we are. We are Christians, holy and forgiven children of the heavenly Father.
Ask yourself – who am I in Christ? Am I yet a heathen, submitting to bondage of the flesh? Serving demons and idols in ignorance? Or am I baptized into the holy name of Jesus? Was I adopted into a holy family, forgiven of transgression, born again to live in righteousness and fear of God forever? If so, if this is true, then how ought I behave? What is the fruit of the new tree born within me? Not mere outward living but a new and clean heart!
Jesus calls a wolf the one who clothes himself as a sheep but whose life shows only bad fruit. His wicked nature remains despite his outward signs of piety. This man is a hypocrite. He says one thing and does another. Think for a moment what he is to say. The pastor has been instructed to preach the Law and the Gospel. The good fruits of this preaching ought to be repentance from our sin, forgiveness of those who trespass against us, and godly lives lived according to the Ten Commandments.
Those who cannot confess with the congregation that they are sinful and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and eternal death are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Those who cannot forgive their neighbor for their sin, who can administer the Office of the Keys sincerely are wolves. Those who openly transgress against God’s command are false shepherds who lead the flock astray. The prophet Jeremiah records our Lord’s Word regarding these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. 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.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17)
Not only does the wolf gloss over his own sin, he will gloss over yours. He will give you hope were there is none. He will say to you: “just try harder next time” or “you’ve lived a good life, that’s got to be worth something.” These are vain illusions of those whose hope is in themselves and not the Jesus Christ. The true prophet does not neglect his flock by preaching so false hopes. Instead he preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins, all as a free gift of God in Christ Jesus.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
In today’s Gospel he tells us what kind of attendance he will give to those wolves. They will be cut down like thorn bushes and poisonous trees and thrown into the fire. Every pastor can’t help but quake in his boots at this Word of Law from God. It calls the faithful steward of the mysteries of God to repent of those times he has sinned against the Lord in thought, word, and deal and receive those comforting words of forgiveness.
Our own merit and qualifications do not make us a true prophet. Rather the true prophet is led by Spirit who preaches and teaches according to the Word of God. Even more so, the the true prophet speaks of the righteous branch, Christ, who was raised up for us and our salvation. The voice of the God’s prophet gives credit for heaven to nothing else than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. By him we may dwell securely in the hope of the heaven He won for us.
I pray that I have demonstrated the fruitfulness that Christ commends to us in the Gospel. Despite the shortcomings of this pastor, I am thankful that you have forgiven me where I have fallen short of expectations, where I have caused offense, or have been quarrelsome. As Paul said in today’s Epistle
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17)
As I consider the one year anniversary of my ordination, it is my prayer that you will continue to suffer, grieve, rejoice, and pray with me. We’re in this together. Tell me when I fall short and forgive me where I fails. Do this as you would do for me, just as you do for each other, living according to the Father’s will who is in heaven.
Listen to my words and judge them according to God’s Word. Pray for me that I remain faithful, standing firm on the rock of Christ. Heed Christ’s warning, that were the truth of God’s Word is absent, ravenous wolves will quickly enter in and consume you with their false teaching. But never fear, God will not allow these wolves to pursue you unless you have abandoned your hope, love, and trust in Him alone.
May the Lord grant in us the wisdom to recognize those wolves in sheep’s clothing that prowl around us, filling us with vain hopes of freedom without Christ or salvation by our own good deeds. May He grant His Holy Spirit to His pastors that they might preach and teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, administer the forgiveness of sins truly in present in the Sacraments with faithfulness, and lead holy and decent lives to the glory of God. May He preserve His Word among us and so shelter us from the ravenous wolves that threaten our faith and His eternal promise. Amen.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church