Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon: Trinity 8 - 2019

11 August 2019

Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Rom 8:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you,” says Jeremiah the prophet, “filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”

It’s a remarkable thing for a prophet to say.  Instead of encouraging people to trust the prophets, this prophet encourages skepticism.  He encourages those who hear prophets and preachers to make sure that they are not being led astray by con men.  

For those who distort God’s Word for their own personal gain have a long history, going all the way back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who filled Adam and Eve with the vain hope, “You shall be like God,” whose false prophecy included, “Did God actually say?”  

Jeremiah says that one of the marks of the false prophet is, “They say continually to those who despise the Word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and… ‘no disaster shall come upon you.’”

For this is how a con man operates.  He makes his victim comfortable.  He convinces you that he’s your friend.  He tells his mark exactly what he wants to hear, whether that he is a Nigerian prince who needs your bank account number to deposit a million dollars, or that God wants you to be rich, and if you just send the TV preacher a thousand dollars, you will indeed be on the path to fortune and riches.

There are many other variations of this scam, but they all operate the same way.

This scam was not what Jeremiah preached.  He warned the people of Judah, “Behold, the storm of the Lord!  Wrath has gone forth, a whiling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.  The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the intents of His heart.  In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”

These are not the words of a con man.  This is not the preaching of a man looking to be popular.  In fact, Jeremiah annoyed everyone with his gloomy words.  The people wanted their preachers to leave them with a song in their heart, not call them to repentance.  They wanted worship to be uplifting, not challenging.  They wanted a soothsayer, that is, someone who would sooth them with sweet words, and not an honest preacher of God’s Word.

Jeremiah complains of prophets who ran to the people unsent by God.  They spoke words that were not given by God.  And how can you tell?  Here is what God Himself says, “But if they [the false prophets] had stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed My words to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.”

For can you hide from God?  Do you think he doesn’t see you and your sinful heart?  Do you think God is not almighty and all powerful?  

So if a preacher tells you just what you want to hear, if it is all Gospel and no Law, if it is based on his own ideas and dreams instead of the Word of God, if there is no call to repent, if these supposed godly words are all about acceptance and inclusion instead of repentance and forgiveness – then don’t listen.

Our Lord builds on Jeremiah’s criticism of false prophets.  As the New and Greater Jeremiah, as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s preaching, our Lord also warns: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.”  Our Lord asks if thorns produce grapes, or if thistles yield figs.  And you can judge the health of the tree by the fruit that the tree bears.  If the fruit is rotten, so is the tree.  And He says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Be very careful, dear friends, about what you consider to be prophecy.  Just because a preacher is on TV doesn’t mean he is preaching the truth.  Just because something on the internet mentions God or Jesus and makes you feel good doesn’t mean it is the Word of God.  This is why you need to read and study His Word.  If you already know the Bible extremely well, then I would encourage you to avoid coming to Bible class – because those of us who meet every week to struggle with the Lord’s Word might slow down the rest of you who know it so well. 

You need the Word of God to protect you from the devil.  I’m constantly amazed at what Christians, including Lutherans, consider to be prophetic, consider to be true, consider to be the Christian faith.  It is stunning how generation after generation of TV preachers grow rich by telling people just what they want to hear, or how much false doctrine otherwise solid Christians are willing to believe – especially if it involves sinful behavior that they or their families are involved in and wish to excuse.

Our sinful flesh desires a preacher who will think more of our self-esteem than our souls, one who will make us happy instead of challenging us.  We much prefer the word of the serpent to the Word of God – because sometimes God tells us “no” when the serpent always tells us “yes.”

We must disregard the hiss of the serpent and the lie of the false prophet.  St. Paul also warns us: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you will 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.”

St. Paul explains that we are adopted sons of God.  Jesus is the biological Son, and we, by virtue of adoption, by virtue of our baptism, we can call God our Father, our Abba, and we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”  And, dear friends, this is what the false preachers will never tell you: to be a son of God involves suffering, as the apostle says, “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

The false prophet says, “No disaster shall come upon you.”  You can have your best life now.  You can be rich and have miracles if you just have enough faith (faith that is usually demonstrated by sending money).  You can continue in your sinful lifestyle because God wants you to be happy.  You don’t need God’s Word because you already know all that stuff.  You don’t need to go to church because the church is filled with hypocrites.  The Bible is filled with errors and doesn’t speak to our modern times.  We are so much smarter and better today than all of those backward people.  You can be anything you want to be, identify in whatever way you wish, because you can be like God.  God would never condemn anyone to hell.  All religions teach the same thing.

And the list goes on.

But Jeremiah snaps us back to reality: “What has straw in common with wheat?”  Isn’t God’s Word “like fire…and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”  Our Lord Jesus Christ even tells us not to be impressed by miracles: “On that day many will say to Me, ‘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 I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”

God does not tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.  He tells you that you need to repent.  And He also tells you that He wants to redeem you by His love.  Otherwise, He would have sent no Jeremiah to warn you, and no Jesus to save you by His blood.

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t put your hope in vain words, in feelings, in things that the world holds to be true.  Rather put your trust in the Word of God, all of it, the Law and the Gospel.  Put your trust in Jesus, in the cross, in your adoption, in your baptism, in the body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  

“For,” as St. Paul comforts us, “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!”

Your Father wants what is best for you.  The Son has come to redeem you.  The Spirit delivers that redemption to you.  Hear and believe the Word of God.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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