You Are Holy In Christ
Saint Matthew 7:15-23
The Word of God that we have before us this morning concerns the danger of false prophets in the midst of God’s holy people—wolves in sheep’s clothing, as our Lord Jesus calls them. Metaphorically, we are sheep and lambs in our Lord’s own flock; He is our Good Shepherd who cares for us, guiding and feeding and protecting us, even at the cost of His own life. But as the prophet Isaiah writes, “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Now sheep, on their own, will not just wander off away from the shepherd. For them to go astray requires something to lead them astray—something, perhaps, as innocent as a passing butterfly, or, as Jesus suggests, as crafty and dangerously calculating as a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing.
Now, of course, wolves don’t dress up like sheep, but think of the carnage that would ensue if they did—if they were able to slip undetected into the sheepfold at night, looking like just one of the flock! It would be devastating! The same is true of the false prophet that enters into the sheepfold that is the Church. The harm that could come from this is unimaginable—no wait—it is imaginable, for we have seen it happen throughout the history of the Church, both in Old Testament times and New.
We heard this morning what the Lord God said to the people of Israel through His prophet Jeremiah. He paints a picture of the false prophets who has infiltrated the Church back then. He says that they are not sent by Him, and the words they speak are not His words. They tell the people what they want to hear and not what they should hear. “To those who despise the word of the Lord,” [they say,] ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” That’s like saying that God is perfectly okay with your sin and unbelief—that it’s fine if you skip church whenever you want and care nothing about being forgiven—that you can go and do whatever you jolly well please and you will still have a place with your name on it in heaven.
This, dear friends, is the kind of preacher that sinful man wants to have in the pulpit. This is the sort of thing that sinful people want to hear. Saint Paul writes to Timothy, telling him that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Now, as we’ve seen from what the Lord God says through the prophet Jeremiah, the time is not just “coming” when this will happen, for it has already come and still remains. When the apostle says, “the time is coming,” this is directly relative to the life of Timothy, a young pastor, fresh into the ministry, who likely still has the idea that sinners will, of course, rejoice at hearing the true Word of God. As Timothy gets a few years of service under his belt, the rose-coloured glasses will come off and he will see just what men and women, and even children, according to their sinful nature, will want to hear.
And what people according to their sinful nature want to hear is holiness without Christ. They want to hear that they can be acceptable before God on their own—by their own merit and worthiness. This is at the heart of every false doctrine, every heresy taught by every false prophet. It originates with the devil himself and the pride that caused him to fall from grace. He then introduced this same pride to the heart of man when he tempted our first parents to think that they could live independent, autonomous lives, not beholding to God for anything. Every child of Adam has this as an inheritance, passed on from generation to generation. That’s why Luther calls this sinful nature our “Old Adam.” And your Old Adam is a stubborn fellow, for not even the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism completely wash him away. He clings to your flesh, and will remain within you until fully purged by the refining fires of mortal death. Then, in the resurrection, you will forever be free of him; then sinful pride will no longer lead you to despise God’s Word and its teaching; then you will never to any degree think of yourself as being your own person, apart from Christ, able to merit salvation on your own.
Now, further regarding your Old Adam, while your baptism may not have yet completely wiped him out, it has put an end to his Carte Blanc control over you. Your Old Adam remains a dangerous influence in your life, to be sure, but Christ in your life, whom you have through Holy Baptism, is far stronger. Christ is always the victor. Christ drags your Old Adam down into the waters of your baptism and drowns him there. And He does this each and every day as the Holy Spirit leads you to recognize, with sorrow, your sins and truly repent of them. The healing and cleansing of your soul, which will be fully accomplished by God in you at the resurrection, is now accomplished by God through the Gospel, as with medicine that must be repeatedly and continually applied to keep you alive until then. This is why you are here, for this is God’s hospital, where the medicine of immortality is given. Our Lord Jesus gives you to eat and drink of His true Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, He preaches His Word in through your ears and down into your heart and life, and He declares to you that you are truly forgiven of all your sins. Oh, the healing this brings to you—the life and salvation that you are given! This divine care, dear brothers and sisters, is the only thing that keeps you alive in Christ and guarantees that you will live with Him in His kingdom forever.
This is the first thing that the false prophets attack. They say that you don’t need the medicine that Christ gives because you are sufficient in and of yourself. You can heal yourself, they say. You can do it all because you are so special and wonderful and able to do amazing things!
To hear all of this, your heart would surely swell with pride. You’d feel so good about yourself—so affirmed, so filled with confidence, so enabled! But it’s all a damned lie! Yes, a damned lie, for this is a lie that leads to death and damnation. It is a lie that says you really don’t need Jesus. Oh, the preaching of the modern day false prophet would never say that Jesus is not still good to have around. But for what purpose? For they have Him sitting off to the side like some sort of glorified team mascot. From time to time they’ll point to Him, so that you’ll still feel like you’re safe, even though you are not. Is this the intention of guys like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and all the other false preachers? Are they intentionally trying to lead believers away from the safety and salvation of Christ? Probably not. It’s more likely that they themselves have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the chief satanic wolf, the devil. And it is most definitely his intention to lead the sheep of Christ’s flock to their death and damnation.
This was the devil’s intention from the start—to lead all of God’s holy creation to share in the death and damnation he had chosen for himself. And it worked with our first parents. Adam and Eve were deceived by his lies. They were led by the devil to the path of death and damnation. But God in His mercy and grace intervened. He stepped into that path to turn us around, to restore us in the way of righteous, to give us life and salvation, by putting His own dear Son on that way of death and damnation in our place. Jesus did suffer and die for you. He endured all the agony and torment of hell for you. He was forsaken of the Father for you. And He rose victorious from that bitter death and damnation for you, to take you with Him in the way of salvation and everlasting life. He has done it all for you, because you are not as the false preachers say. You are a sinner who has no hope without Jesus your Saviour.
And despite what it may seem like, with the proliferation of false prophets in the world, your Saviour Jesus is still Lord of the Church. As He said through Jeremiah, His Word is “like fire … like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces!” Five hundred years ago, it seemed as though the Gospel was completely forsaken and the heresy of false prophets was fully entrenched in the Church, like a rock that could not be broken. But look what happened. The Word of the Lord endured. It broke that rock into pieces and the Gospel was again preached and proclaimed for the salvation of many.
And so it is preached and proclaimed in your midst even now. Christ is here with you—for you—to forgive you your sins and keep you in the salvation that He earned for you on the Cross. He provides you with a safe sheepfold here in our congregation, and His Word, such as He speaks to you today, reminds you to be vigilant, to be on guard, for “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion”—or a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing—“seeking someone to devour.”
Therefore now, dear friends, borrowing words spoken by Saint Paul to the saints in Ephesus: “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” And the God of all grace and mercy will keep you as His own, now and always, though our Saviour Jesus, the Christ. Amen.