21 July 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Rom 8:12-17)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“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.” The Lord tells us that “on that day,” many will point out that they have prophesied and exorcised in His name, and even worked miracles – expecting these works to save them. The Lord will reply to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”
Is this the Gospel of the Lord?
Are these the words of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we judged by our works? Are we to seek admittance to the City of God based on our deeds? If this is the long and short of it, dear friends, we might as well quit right now. We are indeed poor, miserable sinners. For by the fruits of our sins the Lord knows us.
And while our Lord’s words are sobering, and while they do exhort us to good works by putting our faith into action, our Blessed Lord is truly preaching the Gospel to us. For not even workers of miracles, exorcists, and prophets can use their supposed good works to gain admittance to heaven. Their works are counterfeit, because their faith is counterfeit.
Our Lord explains this in the previous paragraph: “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” A better translation is: “A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can an evil tree bear good fruit.”
It’s all about the tree. For if the tree is bad, the fruits will be bad, though they may even appear good. Just as a peach may look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside it is sour, filled with bugs, and bitter to the taste.
This is the Lord’s point, dear friends. The goodness of the fruit depends on the goodness of the tree. If the tree is evil, not even the good-looking fruits are truly good on the inside. And if the tree is good, not even the sad and unimpressive fruits are evil. It’s all about the tree.
Our works that “serve our neighbor” do indeed “supply the proof that faith is living” in the words of the great hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” We are not righteous because of these works. Rather our righteousness comes from the source of these works: our faith. A healthy faith produces good works. A counterfeit faith produces fraudulent works. Man can be fooled by phoniness, but not the Lord.
And, dear friends, this is what our Lord means by “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” He warns us not to fall prey to them. He says that you will “recognize them by their fruits.” A wicked teacher teaches falsely and lives wickedly. And a false prophet can lead the gullible and ignorant astray. The Lord is warning us, dear friends! You must be able to discern a false teacher from a good teacher, one who teaches the truth versus one who proclaims lies. You will know them by their fruits. For their teaching and life will not match the Word of God.
This is why we preachers are exhorted to preach the Word, and you hearers are exhorted to hear the Word. This is why we have Bible class. This is why we study God’s Word. This is why we pray the Psalms. This is why we retain the historic liturgy. This is why we teach children the Catechism. This is why we expect every Christian to be able to discern truth from a lie. This is why we insist that people come here to this sanctuary to hear the Word preached. This is why if they cannot come, their pastor will go to them. This is why the Christian life is no child’s play. Living constantly in the Word of God, week by week, day by day, moment by moment is not an option. For “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.”
The word translated “healthy” to describe the tree that bears good fruit is actually the Greek word “good.” This is the same word that described sinless and perfect creation in the Garden of Eden. The word translated “bad” is actually the Greek word “evil” from the Lord’s prayer: “deliver us from evil,” that is, “from the evil one.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the tree of your faith has been planted by the Lord’s Word and watered with Baptism. It has been nurtured and tended through the tilling of the soil by preachers. The weeds are removed by Holy Absolution, and the sunshine is the coming of the Son in Holy Communion. A tree that is planted by God, watered by His sacraments, and fortified by His Word is a good tree. It is not yet a perfect tree, but it is a tree that bears good fruit.
The warning of the Lord calls us to repent of that which produces bad fruit. Our works will not save us, but if we are to have salvation and eternal life, we must have the faith given to us as a free gift: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” If our faith is genuine, we will see evidence of that faith. If our faith is counterfeit, our works will show it. And if your works point to a weak or dead faith, then this is a great gospel – for it calls you to repent and offers you a second chance. It gives you the opportunity to pray that the Lord will heal the unhealthy tree and make it sound, good, and whole. Only He can do this, He who placed man in a good garden surrounded by good trees. Pray for the gift of repentance, dear friends! Let us pray for a full life of good works that grow from a converted heart. For this passage is not ultimately about the fruits, but about the tree.
The Lord can and does take bad trees and make them good. The cross is the prime example. A tree of death has become the Tree of Life. A tree of shame has become a tree of glory. A tree of punishment has become a tree of righteousness. And the fruit of the tree of the cross is the best fruit of all, the very blood of the Lamb shed for us poor miserable sinners for forgiveness, life, and salvation, the good miracle-wine that the Lord saves for last, given to us in the chalice as the New Testament in His blood, the cup of salvation, the good fruit of the Good Vine.
Every Christian is a bad tree made good. Every Christian is a convert. Every Christian bore bad fruit at one time. Every Christian bears good fruit by God’s grace. Today’s gospel is a gracious invitation to live a life of repentance, week by week, day by day, moment by moment. It is not about our trying to make good fruit by our own effort, but rather about the Lord’s work on the tree so that the good fruit of forgiveness and eternal life is the result. And that is indeed the Gospel of the Lord! Amen.
on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.