The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Vicar Anderson sermon
Text: St. Matthew 7:15-23
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
“Watch out,” “Beware,” “Be on alert.” Today’s text begins with a sharp warning. It takes place near the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and He emphasizes for us the need to watch out for false prophets. Jesus knew that a time would come, and soon that prophets and teachers would rise up and teach falsely. They would misuse the teachings of Jesus and offer different ways of obtaining salvation.
We know from scripture that a prophet is anyone who proclaims the divine message of salvation. They are those who bring the good news or Gospel to those in need of it. A false prophet is someone who claims to be a prophet, but has failed at his primary duty, proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. Most of us can think of someone either in the bible or in our world today who believes incorrectly, but what about a false prophet, a person who preaches a false version of the Word of God?
Many times they are hard to recognize. They blend in and slowly creep into our circles and into our churches. They come to us “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” How can we know whether a prophet is true or false? Jesus says we will “recognize them by their fruits.” False prophets produce bad fruit and true prophets produce good fruit.
I False Prophets Produce Bad Fruit
What Jesus is warning us to watch out for is not those who believe in false doctrine, but those who preach false doctrine. He is warning us against false prophets who preach His Word to His followers. He is referring to the content of the prophet’s message not their outward deeds. Jesus knows that those who claim to preach the truth are the most threatening to us because what they claim to preach is not what is important. What matters is whether or not their preaching actually lines up with God’s Word.
False prophets manipulate God’s Word in order to satisfy their own desires and cause followers of Christ to stumble and fall. They describe a different Jesus than the one you and I know and put our trust in. They change His Word in order to satisfy a personal agenda of their own, adding or subtracting to His Word. People are susceptible to this, and the devil knows it. He knows what we want to hear. What we want and think we need in our lives are what the devil attacks and exploits and he uses false prophets to lead God’s sheep astray.
It is natural for us to be attracted to a different kind of teaching. Because of our sinful nature we would rather strive and take credit for our good works than to completely surrender and accept it solely by grace through faith. Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing. We like to be told, “good job,” “well done,” “thank you.” In fact many of us could never be told this enough, we crave it far too much.
It is difficult for us to do something completely out of the kindness of our heart, not expecting anything in return; we would rather be recognized for it. In this same way we can sabotage the great gift of salvation given to us by our loving Father through our precious Savior. We make it out to be more than a gift. Our reason tells us it can’t be that simple. We want to take some credit. There has to be something I can do to attain it.
When someone comes to us and offers a salvation by our own works, it can sound awfully tempting to us. Wait, you’re telling me if I spend more time in prayer God will be more likely to bless me with good things? If I give more to the church God will be happier with me and will listen to my prayer more? If I do my part God will do His.
These are a few ways false prophets pollute God’s Word in order to tempt us and entice us away from the truth. They replace Christ by inserting something else, twisting the truth of scripture. False prophets offer a path that leads to destruction, and in a few verses prior to our text, Jesus says, “many enter by the wide gate to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). False prophets can only offer worthless bad fruit that leads to death. Jesus would have us flee from this kind of teaching as fast as we possibly can.
Where the truth of God’s Holy Word is being taught –like in this church– the devil will work extra hard to destroy it. He will come using every technique and force possible to squirm and wiggle his way into the church. If he can use a Pastor or even a Vicar to do his bidding he will gladly do it.
St. Paul describes false prophets that the devil uses to do great harm to the church like this, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13–15). No church body is completely safe, and it will always be this way; false prophets can even find their way into the ELS Synod. Jesus warns you to “watch out, beware!”
But, how can we beware of a false prophet if we don’t know what they look like? How do we recognize them?
Jesus describes them as “coming to us in sheep’s clothing,” disguised as sheep means that they would appear to be like one of us. They would seem to be a follower of Christ and someone who lives a relatively moral life. They would be kind to us and show us that they care about us. They would help others and give to others.
Jesus does not say you can know them by their works. If we could know them this way He wouldn’t have said, “many will say “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and cast out devils and perform miracles in your name?” (Matt 7:22) False prophets appear to do good works in His name, and appear to be good leaders who we think we can trust. We are deceived by what we see on the outside.
Instead Jesus says to identify false prophets by what they teach. He says, “you shall know them by their fruits.” We can know them by what comes out of their mouths. Are their words in accordance with God’s Holy Word? Can any false doctrine be found in their teaching? False doctrine equals false prophet. God’s Word is like a measuring rod testing whether or not what someone says is true.
Many false prophets confess that Jesus is the Savior and the only way to heaven, but they will dilute and minimize this doctrine and other teachings of scripture. The entirety of God’s Word both His Law and saving Gospel are the full counsel of God, and if anyone takes away or adds to God’s Word then it no longer can produce good fruit.
A key question to ask ourselves is, “what are they pointing us to?” or more accurately, “whom are they pointing us to?” If they point us to anything but Christ for the answer to our weary souls, then they are a false prophet. Let us all be on our guard against false prophets.
Thankfully there are also true prophets among us, who teach and hold fast to the purity of God’s holy Word.
II True Prophets Produce Good Fruit
The true prophets of old pointed to Christ. They prophesied about the coming of the Messiah the deliverer and Savior of His people from sin and death. They pointed to Jesus Christ the True Prophet, the one who would come and prophesy about Himself. This prophet taught people who He was and what He had come to do. He prophesied that He had come to give all people a way out of sin and darkness, into the light of salvation. He revealed to people that all other true prophets pointed towards Him. All that these prophets had foretold about Him would come true through His perfect life and atoning death.
His atoning death is not for those who think they are owed it or deserve it. You and I don’t deserve to go to heaven. We have often ignored God’s Word and followed the voices we wanted to listen to, the voices of false prophets leading us away from Jesus. We didn’t think it would be so bad, but it was. We know how often we have failed to beware and be watchful.
Jesus had many voices around Him accusing Him of blasphemy and being a false prophet. The True Prophet, the prophet above all prophets was labeled a false prophet….a liar. He was attacked verbally and physically and convicted on false charges, which led to a death only reserved for the most evil and vile offenders.
And still, through all of this He never wavered in His task. Jesus lived a life completely sinless for you, a life that you cannot possibly live. He was never enchanted by any of the false prophets around Him. He died in perfect obedience to the will of His Father. He did this selflessly and out of His great love for you, so all of your sins of weakness and pride would be blotted out.
This is the heart of your Lutheran faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2: 8–9). We cannot take credit for our salvation because this would be a denial of the truth. A denial of what God’s Word teaches. Christ entered into the world as a gift from our Father in heaven and saved us apart from any work of our own.
And He is with you now continuing to bring you the blessings of His perfect life and sacrificial death. He gives you His holy body and blood. The righteousness and forgiveness of God placed in your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. He graciously comes to nourish you and give you the strength to fend off all false prophets and any false doctrine.
Jesus has appointed prophets to administer these gifts through His means of grace. He still calls faithful pastors to preach God’s Word in sermons and administer the Sacraments to you. Men bring you the truth of God’s Word and do not add or subtract from it. They baptize in the name of the triune God and give you the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
The Holy Spirit works through the words of these men to bring to you the good fruits of Christ’s atoning work, bringing you comfort and strengthening your faith. The Lord will continue to come to you this way until you dine at His side at the eternal feast in heaven.
Our gracious Father has given us His means of grace, and because of this we can now recognize false prophets and stand firm against them. Christ came as the Word incarnate to show us the true way to salvation, and through Him we have life everlasting. Thanks be to God that He has given us His truth by providing us with His holy Word.
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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(picture from “Christ before Pilate” by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity & Installation of Vicar – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 5:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who gives fullness to the empty and faith to the fearful, dear fellow redeemed:
The brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, were fisherman. That means they knew the lake of Gennesaret—most commonly called the Sea of Galilee—better than anyone. These fishermen knew the best places to fish and the best times for fishing. But when we meet them in today’s text, they had just worked through the night without success. All they had to show for their efforts were nets full of weeds. As they washed out the nets, they were tired, discouraged, maybe even irritated. Who can pay the bills with weeds?!
But their attention wasn’t totally on their nets. They watched Jesus come down to the shore accompanied by the crowds that were always with Him these days. And as they worked, they listened. Some of these men had met Jesus before. Andrew and probably John were two who had gone to hear the preaching of John the Baptizer by the Jordan River. They were present when the Baptizer pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Joh. 1:36). So they and their brothers knew about Jesus, that He was someone significant, a Teacher unlike the scribes.
This is why Simon Peter was willing to take Jesus a little ways from shore in his boat, and why he was even willing to let down the fishing nets in the deep. Conventional wisdom said that this was neither the time nor the place to fish, and Simon said as much, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he listened and did what Jesus said. And then Simon and his companions hauled in a catch of fish like they had never seen or probably ever heard of.
Now suppose Simon had not fallen to his knees in fear. What if as he was pulling more and more fish into the boat, he hadn’t thought about his sins but only thought about the profit that this boat-load would bring? Or about the notoriety and glory he would have? He would be famous for miles around! People would write songs about this day! Simon would be a somebody!
That’s always the temptation, to take the glory that belongs to God alone, and to want to apply it to ourselves. We do this when we have success at something, and all we can think is how hard we have worked, how gifted we are, how much we deserve the recognition we receive. When things are going well, when times are good, we don’t thank God—at least not first of all. We might remember to thank Him eventually, but even then, our “thanks” can sound like the Pharisee’s: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luk. 18:11).
Simon was not wrong to fall at Jesus’ feet and confess his sinfulness. That was a totally appropriate response when he realized he was in the presence of the holy Lord. We can learn something from this. In the greatest moment of his professional fishing career, Simon did not bask in the glory of his accomplishment. He was humbled. He saw the gift he had been given, and he knew he didn’t deserve it.
But where Simon went wrong was when he asked Jesus to leave him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” If Jesus were to leave, Simon would still be a sinner. He might be less aware of his sins, but he wouldn’t have less sins. He needed Jesus to stay. He needed Jesus to save him. Jesus wasn’t about to leave. He had big plans for this big sinner. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Colin, you are embarking on this same mission. It is your desire to cast the net of God’s Word into the sea of this world and catch souls for the Lord. You are ready to apply all your talents, all your abilities, all your ideas and strategies, to this task. You want to be a good fisherman. You want to see the nets fill up with fish.
But there’s a problem: You are a sinful man. And there’s another problem: The one who is assigned to help you with this fishing, who is even now casting out the nets—he is a sinner too. What are we to do? I’d like to tell you to “Follow me!” “I’ll show you the ropes!” “I’ll teach you everything I know!” “I’ll make sure that when the year is up, you’ll know how to fish!”
If that were the case, then theoretically I should be able to teach anyone to fish. I should be able to teach anyone how to be a pastor in God’s church. But I do not think that, or if I do think it, I should be ashamed. The fact of the matter is that even our best efforts fail apart from Jesus. I could be a great speaker. I could be an expert administrator. I could have all the tools for success. But if Jesus doesn’t give the blessing, the nets go empty.
The pastor’s calling is not to say, “Follow me,” as though he can save anyone, as though he can get anyone to heaven. The pastor’s calling is to speak Jesus’ Word, to point to Jesus. The nets weren’t filled because of Simon’s skills. He and the others fished all night and caught nothing. The nets were filled because Jesus said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus filled those nets, and He filled them by the power of His Word.
Every one of you here is a living testament to the power of Jesus’ Word. You didn’t find your own way into the net of His Church. He caught you in the calm, clean waters of Holy Baptism. Through those waters, He cleansed you of your sins, He claimed you as His own, and He covered you in His righteousness. As long as you remain in the water of your Baptism by faith in Him, you will continue to be a healthy fish, full of life. The baptismal font is your fishbowl—not to keep you from experiencing what the world has to offer, but to protect you from it and to give you what the world cannot give.
Jesus promises to continue feeding and strengthening His fish through the ongoing preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments. This is why every fish needs a pastor. Now a fish could possibly survive without one. We hear so many say that today, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!” But a fish does need to stay in the water, and it does need to eat. A Christian needs to return to Baptism through the confession of sin and the absolution the pastor speaks. And a Christian needs to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, which the pastor is called to distribute.
Whether or not a Christian strongly feels the need for a pastor, Jesus feels strongly about it. That’s why He called Simon and Andrew, James and John, and all the rest of the disciples to follow Him. That’s why after His resurrection, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Joh. 20:22-23). And that’s why before His ascension, He commissioned them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Christians have pastors because Jesus wants them to have pastors. And because He wants them to have pastors, He still calls sinful men to follow Him. No man has the power in himself to save even one soul. But Jesus through His Word saves many souls. He fills His Church with fish. The power is His, and the glory is His.
The pastor’s or the vicar’s responsibility is to proclaim His Word. Jesus’ Word does the work. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Co. 2:2). In the same letter, he criticized them for putting too much focus on the person of the preacher. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (3:5-7).
Colin, it will be my duty to remind you this year that you are nothing, just as I am nothing. Jesus is everything. He is the Savior of us sinful men, and of all the sinful people we serve. Without Him and His Word, all the nets of our efforts will come up empty. But with Him and His Word, our work cannot fail because His Word never returns to Him empty (Isa. 55:11). I know you are ready to dive in, and so am I. “Follow Me,” says Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mat. 4:19).
Jesus does not turn any of us sinners away from Him. He does not depart from us in disgust when we fall again and again. He speaks words of assurance and peace to us. When you hear the absolution from the mouths of His fishermen—“I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”—that is Jesus speaking. Those are His words. He does not reject sinners; He forgives them. And He calls each one to follow Him in repentance and faith.
It is His Word that filled the nets with fish and His Word that fills our hearts with hope. It is His Word that changed the disciples’ priorities and His Word that gives us purpose. It is His Word that saved the sinners of old and His Word that saves sinners today. “Follow Me!” says Jesus. And He gives us the faith and the courage and the will to do it.
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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(picture of the miraculous catch of fish by Raphael, 1515)