In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
False-prophets have not stood in His council. They have not let His Word have its way with them. Thus, what they counsel does not come from God. They do not stand nor build on level ground. For God’s Word is the level ground of faith that stands firm.
Paul was an example of a true prophet. He preached the whole counsel of God for three years, day and night. And what was the fruit of his preaching? A thriving church in Ephesus. Many pastors to oversee that church. Pastors who loved Paul, whose hearts were broken at the news that they would never see him again. They loved him, not because Paul was an awesome guy, not even because they knew him well. They loved him because he was the source of God’s Word in their lives. He taught them, and gave them the Lord’s Word. He set them on level ground of faith. How could they not love him?
Meanwhile, Jeremiah was a true prophet in a very different context. He preached not in a new church but in a well established church. Paul had warned of false prophets who were about to arise within that new church. Thus, the pastors had to be on guard, on guard that they were standing on the level ground of God’s Word. For all else is shifting sand. All else will be shattered and broken by sin. Only God’s Word is the sure foundation. Paul had set that foundation deep in the hearts of his hearers. But he knew Satan would tempt the pastors to depart from God’s Word.
Jeremiah was preaching to a church whose foundation was so corrupted and broken that the whole building was about to fall over. It was full of false-prophets and empty of the Word of God. The situation had gotten so bad that his hearers could no longer stomach the Word. They did not want to hear it. So the fruit of his preaching was that when He called them to repentance they got angry. They shut their ears. They wouldn’t hear it. They even threatened to kill him. Thus, Jeremiah throughout his life despaired. And in order to encourage Jeremiah the Lord told Jeremiah that as bad as it looked amongst hundreds of thousands of Israel who had turned away from the Lord, there were yet 7000 completely, totally faithful ones. 7000 who stood on the solid ground of God’s Word. 7000 who received his preaching, who rejoiced in it, to whom it was life. And remember the numbers from last week? 7000 means quite literally 7000, but it also signifies those who trust in the Lord’s Covenant, in His Word. For 10, the Ten Commandments, to the third power is 1000. And trusting in His Word they have His rest, the rest of the seventh day.
Which setting are we in? A setting where we love God’s Word, are passionate for it, it is new and exciting for us, and thus we must be on guard for and fend off the false prophets who will come in to devour and destroy the flock? Or are we in an age of a Church ravaged by false prophets so that many fall away, and are drawn away by false teaching? A Church where faith is flagging; where it is destroyed by false teachers so that people these days will not hear or bear with true prophecy, with the whole counsel of God? I would suggest we are closer to Jeremiah’s situation. But there is still a faithful remnant standing on the level ground of God’s Word. A remnant which must be on guard against false prophets. We must not be drawn away by those false sheep who arise from within Church to draw away true believers after their teachings.
Our Lord says you will know them by their fruit. The fruit spoken of here is faith in Christ’s salvation for you through His cross. This is good fruit. On the other hand, bad fruit is faith in your own goodness, and an attempt to convince yourself that God will let you into heaven, because in your own mind, you are a good person.
The person who listens to God’s true prophets bears fruit by recognizing his sinfulness, repenting, and becoming increasingly aware of their own miserable state. This fruit bearing causes them to live in a constant state of repentance. But this fruit causes them to cling all the more to Christ and His blood shed on the cross for them! They will turn their backs on their own righteousness. They will not look to their good works, or need to pat themselves on the back. They will instead rejoice in Jesus and trust in Him alone. They stand before God justified by faith which trusts in the One who did the will of God by going to the cross. This is the true fruit of the true prophet.
However, the fruit of the false prophet is the need to justify yourself and your works before God. By this you hope to feel God's love; hope to set your conscience at peace; hope to look important to others; hope to convince yourself of your innate worth. And by this you will eventually be driven to despair. For it is a desperate way to live for who can ever do enough? Satan and your conscience will eventually accuse you of your sin. But in between bouts of despair such false teaching causes you to exalt in the righteousness of your works, secure, arrogant, proud that you are so good, looking down on others.
This is why we all, especially pastors, must watch ourselves for it is easy to think yourself better than others. When in reality, the true preaching of God’s will shows you that you are nothing before God, that only in Christ do you stand justified, righteous, pure, holy, loved by the Father, eternally innocent, filled with the joy of heaven, looking forward to a life set free from this veil of tears and the struggle with the sinful flesh which all Christian’s on this side of heaven have, looking for the peaceful rest of eternity in your Lord’s presence. That is the level ground His preaching gives.
That is the fruit of true prophets. This is why we must watch ourselves for there is temptation on every side. Lutheran laity and pastors with our love for God’s Word and the proper distinction of Law and Gospel are tempted to think themselves better than others because of a pure understanding of God’s Word. But of course, if anyone has such a gift it is entirely a gift! It is a gift to be given, nothing which comes from you, nothing which makes you better than anyone else. Having been given such a gift does not make you better. It makes you blessed. And the proper response is simply to rejoice in such a gift and to share it with any who will hear it. Repent when you think yourself better than anyone else for the gifts Christ has given you without any merit or worthiness on your part.
Lutherans may also be tempted knowing the glorious joys of God’s gracious, unending forgiveness to take it easy on themselves, to loosen up the laws and standards on their own behaviour, indulging in things they ought not, knowing they are forgiven. What a sham! What a travesty, for your actions will teach others to do the same destroying your own faith and that of others. It won’t matter if you say, “Lord, Lord,” the fruit of such thinking will bring death on you and others. Repent.
A Christian will recognize both true and false prophets by their fruit. You will know them by their preaching. For true preaching points you to the narrow way of eternal life—Jesus and His righteousness through His cross alone. But the broad and easy way—simply be a good person, trust in yourself, stuff which anyone with any religion or anyone without a religion can do and think and believe—this is false prophecy.
Jesus and His righteousness won on the cross and given in His Word is the level ground of faith. He and His righteousness is the fruit of the tree of life. He and His righteousness is the good tree which gives you life. He and His righteousness is the message of the true prophet. He and His righteousness is the Good Shepherd which brings you into the eternal sheepfold. He and His righteousness is the whole Council of God which imparts faith, life, and the joy of the Father’s everlasting peace.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church,
Thunder Bay, ON