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Trinity 8 – Matthew 7:15-23

by pastorjuhl ~ August 28th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            You will recognize the best actors by their fruits. Actors who excel at their craft will sell out theaters everywhere. Witness the capacity crowds earlier this spring for Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane performing “The Iceman Cometh.” The play lasts twice as long as standard plays, but the house sold out practically every performance. You don’t want to miss the perfect storm of good writing and acting when it lands near you.

You will recognize prophets by their fruits. They may dress well, have a practiced voice, or even live the good life. However, what comes out of their mouths should match their life Does the one speaking the Word of God practice what he preaches? The answer from Jesus is you will recognize them by their fruits.

The center of the comparison between trees and fruits in Matthew chapter seven is a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. What makes a healthy tree? Good soil. Frequent nourishment. These two things, among others, provide a tree to put down deep roots and grow healthy fruit. Lacking good soil and frequent nourishment, a tree will grow sick and bear bad fruit. A bad tree that bears bad fruit must be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Jesus speaks these words in the Sermon on the Mount in order to show His disciples that all the external trappings of a prophet mean nothing unless what comes out of a prophet is pure. Saint Peter writes in his first epistle: Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God (NASB). The speaking Peter writes about is sometimes defined as preaching. There is nothing worse in Christ’s Church than a preacher who does not believe what he preaches. What is worse, a preacher who preaches the righteousness of God, but does not chiefly preach this righteousness to himself.

False prophets tend to think themselves righteous without God’s help. They preach a righteousness not entangled in Jesus. Jesus then becomes a moral compass, a standard bearer for virtue. Divine righteousness not entangled in Jesus tangles false prophets. It leaves them tongue-tied. They stutter about, preaching pious platitudes that make sinners comfortable in sin. Hearers hear they should do nice things for others because Jesus says so. They leave the church building a little holier than when they came in, but it’s all a sham, a farce.

Before too long, you might blurt out that you no longer require pastors and preachers. You can read the Word for yourself at home. But the fact is you won’t do it. Or if you do read the Word at home, the Word is not productive, nor as dynamic, as it is when publicly proclaimed through the mouth of the preacher whom God has called and ordained to do such preaching for them. Christ has a warning for you when you become so smug that you think you can be your own preacher of righteousness: be careful, you will be misled. False prophets will come to you, and they will do so in sheep’s clothing (adapted from BML).

Pastors do not offer Bible studies because we like to hear ourselves talk. Pastors offer opportunities to study God’s Word together in order that you might grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul writes in Colossians chapter one: Him (Jesus) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Maturity in Christ Jesus comes with hearing the Word, both as teaching the Truth of salvation and as warning against false doctrine that obscures Christ’s glory. A confirmation certificate gathering dust in a forgotten corner of the attic or the basement does not equal being present mature in Christ. Mother’s milk is wonderful for starters, but meat and potatoes, fruits and vegetables picked fresh from Scripture make for a mature diet.

Luther writes in a sermon on Ephesians chapter six, “Every Christian should certainly be so well armed that for himself he is sure of his faith and doctrine, and he should be so firmly grounded on passages from God’s Word that he is able to hold his own against the devil and to defend himself when people want to convert him to some other view.” Armor is defensive protection from the weapons of Satan. One weapon is fruit that looks good on the outside, but is poisonous on the inside. It looks like wheat, but actually is straw. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, says Jeremiah, but let him who has my Word speak my Word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat?

False prophets preach slavery of the wrong sort. Saint Paul lived in that slavery as a Pharisee’s Pharisee. He was a slave to the Law, but only the externals of the Law. The things that made for righteousness were foreign to him. Going through the motions of keeping the Law sufficed. But look what happens when slavery is pointed away from the belly and toward Jesus: if you life according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. The Holy Spirit does not reside in checklists of purity that demand to be equal to the blood and righteousness of Jesus.

Paul continues, for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit in the living and active Word of God put you out of slavery to the Law and into a new family, the family of God, bathed in baptismal water that covers you with all the holiness, innocence, and righteousness of Jesus. As a member of God’s family, the Spirit also puts you before the altar of God, where the fruit of Jesus’ passion and death go in your mouth for the forgiveness of sins.

An old saying goes, “The life of the clergyman is the gospel of the people.” The clergyman’s life is one of repentance and forgiveness. He is a hearer of the Word along with the flock he stewards. Like his sheep, he is a healthy tree as long as he remains in the good soil of the Word and receives nourishment from his baptism, from absolution, and from the Supper. Rooted in these gifts, pastor and people together bear good fruit. People starving for Truth cannot help but be drawn to them, for sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock are easily recognized by their fruits. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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