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The Good Fruit—Sermon for Trinity 8 (2008)

by Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes ~ July 13th, 2008

Trinity 8, July 13, 2008 A+D

Rev. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.

+Jesu juva!+

Matthew 7:15–23, The Good Fruit


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:

These days, it seems like health food is “in.” More and more people are trying to avoid junk food and are buying healthy food, whether you call it organic, all-natural, or health food. Many people take their health seriously. They want to avoid poisons or toxins. Therefore they want warning labels and nutritional information on their food, so that they can recognize what is good for them, and recognize what is bad for them. Even people who don’t care what they eat still want to avoid what is harmful to them. Everyone wants to be warned about something that will make them unhappy, or at least I do. We feel it’s important to recognize what is good for us, and to recognize what is bad for us.

Today, Jesus has a warning for you. He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” His warning isn’t as trivial as warning about dangerous toys from China, or about beef with mad cow disease. All these things only affect our bodies here in time. But Jesus’ warning for you deals with your body and soul forever. “Beware of false prophets.”

What is a prophet? Simply speaking, a prophet is a human being who has been allowed to see divine things and then tells others about this. A prophet often sees the future, sometimes sees the past, and speaks in the present. He is God’s man to communicate God’s message to humanity. People trust that what the prophet says is what God says. People trust that God is speaking to them when the prophet speaks. In that respect, even though prophets are not the same as pastors, what Jesus says today applies to them, too. “Beware of false prophets,” Jesus says, because not everyone who claims to speak for God is God’s man. Some are imposters, interlopers, deceivers. They say, “Thus says the Lord,” or “God told me to tell you,” or “God put it on my heart to do such and such,” and yet what they say is not what God has spoken. That’s what a “false prophet is.” One who claims to speak for God, but doesn’t. Jesus wants you and me and everyone to beware of them.

That’s why it’s important for all Christians to judge doctrine. Doctrine means “teaching.” All Christians, not just pastors, should judge teaching or doctrine and recognize what is true and what is false. You see, Jesus spoke these words as part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapters 5 through 7, and this sermon was directed not just at the Apostles, but also at the crowds. All Christians should beware of false prophets, all Christians should judge doctrine. But unfortunately, at the time of the Reformation, and even to this day, many people in the Roman Catholic Church taught and still teach that laypeople are not to judge doctrine. For them, judging doctrine is something only the clergy and pope can do. Some Lutherans in history have also said the same—an utterly unfortunate position to take! Their concern was a good one, to emphasize that God has given pastors an important role in shepherding and teaching God’s people. But ultimately, all Christians—pastors and laypeople together—must judge doctrine. Just as everyone who wants to be healthy should pay attention to the warning labels, whether or not he’s a doctor, so also everyone who wants to be spiritually healthy and happy should pay attention to whether the doctrine is true or false.

Fundamentally, we can’t simply assume that because something says “Lutheran” or even “LCMS” on it, that it’s true. Our Evangelical Lutheran Church has been blessed with pure teaching in the past, but this is not guaranteed for the present, nor for the future. We don’t have to be paranoid about false doctrine, but we do need to compare what we hear with what Scripture says. Saint Paul knew this. He said to the pastors of Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert,” (Acts 20:29–31). If this applies to the early Church at Ephesus, which was cared for by holy St. Paul, then it certainly applies to us today, who are far removed and far less holy than they. The fundamental attitude of every Christian has to be “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

So how can you protect yourself? How can you beware of these false prophets, these wolves? If they are in sheep’s clothing, and we are sheep, that means they’re hard to spot. They look like us, like real sheep, real Christians. So how can you recognize these wolves? By recognizing the fruit of their lips. Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits. . . . Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” And the prophet Jeremiah said, “Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28). “Speaking” is the chief thing that a prophet does. That’s his primary work or fruit. Therefore, to tell if he’s a true prophet or not, look at the fruit of his lips. Is this good fruit? Is this bad fruit? That will tell you. That’s your warning label.

“Not so easy!” you may be saying. “Food comes with nutritional information printed in clear black-and-white. But a person’s teaching or writing does not come with such a trustworthy label.” This is true. You have a good point. But consider this: If you want to find out whether a wooden board is crooked or straight, do you need a warning label? No, what you need is a trustworthy straightedge. Hold the straightedge up against the board, and you’ll see easily whether the board is crooked or straight. Dearly beloved, God’s Word is your straightedge. Hold up what you hear against it. And the Small Catechism—especially the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer—is a trustworthy copy of this straightedge. You can use it, too. Compare what you hear with these, and you will quickly see what is straight and what is crooked. And in this way you will see what prophet has good fruit, and what prophet has bad fruit. This is your warning label. Here’s how you’ll see what is good, nourishing, healthy fruit, and what is bad, spoiled, corrupt, poisonous fruit. Beware of the bad fruit, eat only the good!

From the fruit of lips that proclaim God’s Word, we bring forth fruit in our lives. After we have heard God’s Word preached to us, it takes root in our hearts, grows up and brings forth fruit. We have already been accepted by God because of Jesus’ death for us on the cross. Now, through the work of God’s Word and Spirit, we are made holy, so that we begin to do good and to really be good in our hearts. This is only rudimentary, of course. This new life of bringing forth good fruit is still mixed with much evil in us. We Christians don’t like our evil and we do fight against it. But only we Christians who have been baptized and have received the Holy Spirit—only we can begin to bring forth good fruits. And yet, it’s only by God’s power. Today’s collect, the summary prayer at the beginning of the service, puts it perfectly. “Grant to us, Lord, the Spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good without You, may be enabled by You to live according to Your will.” 

So what is this fruit of our lives like? When the good, nourishing fruit of true doctrine takes root in your heart, it bring forth the fruit of love in you: love toward God and toward your neighbor. If the good fruit of true teaching is in your heart, then you will begin to be patient with others. You will start to grow in knowledge of God’s Word, and will grow in prayer. Though you may tend to be selfish and insist on your own way, you will start to be patient and kind towards other people, listening to them and not jumping to conclusions. The good fruit of God’s Word will grow up within you, causing you to explain things in the kindest way, and to value nothing more than God the Holy Trinity, His Word, and His Sacraments. Not only that, but you will begin to see that the things of this world—whether it’s drugs, booze, or fleshly intimacy—will never truly make you happy. Only seeing the Holy Trinity in heaven will truly make you happy forever. And a love for God the Holy Trinity is a good fruit of His Word. That’s what this fruit in our lives is like. It is marked by a warm, overflowing love for God above all things, and then a love for your neighbor as yourself.

And if you look at your life and don’t see much fruit, then take heart. The fruit of Christ’s cross overcomes the fruit of the garden. We don’t see much fruit in our life because of the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve, and also because of all our sins which we have added to theirs. Adam and Eve had a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether this was a good tree or a bad tree, I cannot say. All I can say is that it was bad for them to eat of that fruit, and so therefore it was bad fruit and a bad tree for them, because God had forbidden it. That bad tree bore bad fruit, which poisoned our entire human race like junk food. It was so attractive and yet so lethal. But the good fruit of a good tree has counteracted that bad fruit. Christ Jesus—God’s Son and Mary’s Son—died on the tree of the cross for your sins, in order to make peace for you with God. And having died, His side was pierced by a spear, and out came blood and water. Behold the good fruit of the good tree! Water and blood from the body of Jesus. This is Spirit-laden water and blood. Now, here in the Christian Church, there is Spirit-laden water of Baptism and the Spirit-laden real body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. This is good fruit from a good tree. This is the healthy doctrine from a true prophet, the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Response to The Good Fruit—Sermon for Trinity 8 (2008)

  1. Paul Beisel

    Nice work, herr Mayes. It’s funny, in a way, how intent people are on making sure that what goes into their mouths and bellies is healthy, yet how careless people are about the things that go into their ears, and their souls.

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