I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

Your Shepherd Warns and Protects You from the Wolves

Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. Matthew 7:15-23 “Your Shepherd Warns and Protects You from the Wolves.”
July 30, 2023 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Almighty Father, who by Your Son Jesus Christ taught us to beware of false prophets: Have mercy upon Your Church, we beseech You, to deliver it from all evil; and give us faithful pastors and teachers who shall truly fulfill Your command and preach nothing contrary to Your Holy Word; that we Your people, being instructed, nurtured and comforted by Your heavenly truth, may bring forth fruit to Your glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Parish Prayers, ed. Frank Colquhoun, p. 114)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 7th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

“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. 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 then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who stands in the fence of the sheep pen, warning and protecting you, His little lambs, dear fellow redeemed:

In the twenty-two years that I have gone out into the woods hunting, there is a scene that I have come across on more than one occasion. Trudging through the snow, I came across a set of deer tracks with wolf tracks over the top of them. You can paint the scene of this little deer running as fast as they can. Follow them a little bit and you find where one of the wolves veers off the track, flanking the poor little fawn. Wolves are smart. They are great hunters. There are reports that they will even hunt for sport. They are swift and sly. They move in a way to not be noticed. As these real wolves move throughout the woods, the false prophets of today are also hunting. Jesus warns that they are hunting you. They may look cute and fluffy like a soft lamb, but as they get ready to pounce, your Shepherd protects you with His Holy Word!

Jesus is shepherding the people with His Sermon on the Mount. He gives His flock the warning that is in our text. It is stern and it does sound scary. There are wolves out in the world that are looking to devour the sheep. Jesus tells the crowd that these wolves are noticeable. They may look like lambs, but their actions are completely the opposite. He also warns the wolves about what will happen to them as they try to attack the sheep. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The wolves will not win!

Who are the wolves that Jesus is talking about? The wolves that are hunting the sheep are those of the scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law. They started off by learning God’s law. They studied and studied. They knew God’s law in and out. Since they learned it, they knew that they couldn’t follow the law perfectly as is required. They wanted to do good. But their good wasn’t good enough. So, they added to Scripture. The more they added to Scripture, the more they began to contradict Scripture. They go on acting as if they are doing what’s best for the people. Soft like sheep, but they are only in it for themselves. They are no better than the false prophets that fill the Old Testament. The false prophets would prophesy for the corrupt kings of old while God’s prophets would prophecy His holy Word.

Jesus, like the prophets of God, He is the Prophet. He teaches the truth of God’s Word, and the people should recognize what the wrong teaching looks like. “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” It should be easy to see this bad fruit from the thornbush, but for the sheep that has no shepherd the wool of the wolves is soft.

The evidence is clear that we can get swept up in the teaching of the false prophets. This happens because of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The message can many times sound like the truth. Now there are the obvious wolves that deny what Scripture says. They are so obvious that they have used their anti-Scripture tendencies in our state and federal politics. Is that what Jesus is getting at? Those wolves are very noticeable. How about the ones that aren’t? These wolves try to convince us that American Christianity is Lutheran. They start off by telling us, “Well we all look the same!” “Don’t we believe the same thing, that we love Jesus, and we need to do what’s best for Him?” “Our missions, aren’t they the same? Why don’t we work together to make the world a better place? It’s us against the world. Why fight amongst each other?

There they are. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. They try and sell us on worldly issues, and they look as if they are following Jesus, doing as He says. And then they add to Scripture, we miss it, and little by little we believe it as truth. We can start to think that maybe “God doesn’t give us more than what we can handle.” Maybe “I’m not accepting Jesus into my heart as much as I can, I can do better.” “I suppose we can accept the way people live, doesn’t Jesus’ love everyone, those sins, are they even sins anymore?” Then we start to compromise. “Those people aren’t hurting me, why should I single them out?” “Does the Bible really say that I can’t have fellowship and do things with that church? They do so much good for the community. So, what if they are lacking in their doctrine?”

Just because some churches look like they are doing well, that they are growing, it doesn’t mean that they are preaching and teaching what is right. More often they have added to the teaching of Scripture. We can see it by how aggressive they are and what their main message is. If their main message is about earning salvation, their message is no better than the false prophets of the Old Testament and the Pharisees of the New Testament. They have added to Scripture. Jesus’ warning stings when we actually see how serious it is.

As Jesus warning shows that the leaders of the people are the wolves that are hunting the sheep, His warning teaches that there are trees that bear good fruit. There are those who teach what is solid truth. Jesus wants the people to know that He isn’t lying to them. As we heard a couple of weeks ago, Jesus does not add to Scripture. He teaches the people that the message must be in full agreement with Scripture. Jesus’ message is in full agreement. He teaches how the law does not apply to outward appearances, but the law can be broken by sinning with thoughts and words. And since the people can’t follow God’s law perfectly, they don’t have to despair over it or try to change the law. Jesus obeys God’s Word; He lives out the truth. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is the righteous branch with perfect fruit, proving to the wolves that following God’s law can only be done by one person. Only God in the flesh can obey the law perfectly.

And as Jesus is the only one who obeys the law perfectly, He is the only way of salvation. Anything apart from Him has no salvation. Jesus wants the people to realize that there are many who say that they are following Him. They know His name. Yet they do not know Him because they only care about themselves. If they follow Jesus, do not put themselves first, and acknowledge that the way they live their lives is wrong, Christ takes away the sins of the wolves. More often though, they see the work of Christ and they don’t want to do it. Christ is the shepherd of the flock. He warns it, protects it, and keeps the wolves at bay.

These false prophets try to convince you that there is something you can do to appease God and His law. Your sinful nature does want to follow false prophets and it does want to add to God’s law because you understand that you aren’t perfect. Jesus gives you this warning about the wolves because He understands as well. He knows that you can’t live up to God’s law. Instead of hanging on to the words of those who look to change Scripture, hang on the Words of Scripture! Jesus lives the law in your place. He willingly takes your place in front of God. He shepherds you and He let the wolves kill Him for your sake. He was crucified for you.

And this is the saving message. If you hear something other than this, you know that there is something wrong with the message. If it adds to Scripture, if it says that you should follow this leader because his way makes you look better, you will see the bad fruit of the thornbush. If you would follow this leader or fall into these partial truths of God’s Word, know that these sins are forgiven. Christ did die for the wolves. Your sins can bear bad fruit. But Jesus says to you, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Your fruit comes through the pure teaching of Christ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins. You know Christ through His Word.

Jesus in His Word describes Himself as your shepherd. As your shepherd who warns you and protects you, He has given you under shepherds. These under shepherds are your pastors. They studied hard in school, learning the truths of Scripture. They bring you the pure message of the Gospel. When you hear this message, not only does it bring you comfort, but when you hear something that contradicts it, you know that it is a message from a wolf. If there is the smallest hint in their message of something that you must do for your own salvation, you know that this is a false prophet. If they say that they have done all these things in Jesus’ name, but their actions towards others are not loving their neighbors, you see Jesus’ warning against them.

You might be wondering how you can guard yourselves against these wolves and their lies. To fight against the wolves, fall back on your training. You have been taught Luther’s Catechism. You have been taught the Creeds, the confessions of the Gospel. These are the tools that you can use to attack the wolves. The Creeds and Confessions all come from the Word of God. As you study them, you see that the Word is living and active. It is the Sword of the Spirit. It does the fighting for you. Anything other than the truth of the Word is bad fruit, and those trees will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

These wolves might look like they are powerful, fast, and cunning. However, they are no match to the pure teaching of Scripture. The pure teaching of being saved through Christ alone. These false prophets will try to disguise this message for personal gain. They want to be big shots, so you don’t see through their wool. As much as they try to be sneaky, you have the tools to test and discern these false prophets. Their message cannot overthrow Christ and the Gospel. Christ is your shepherd. He laid down His life for you. He forgives you, comforts you, and strengthens you with His Word. He warns you sternly, but He loves you forever. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever
shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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