St. Matthew 7:15-23
July 26, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church–New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In verse 21of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “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” (v 21). The word translated as “does” (the one who does the will of my Father), is the Greek word poie,w. Poie,w is a word with a broad range of meaning that usually simply means, “to do.”
Yet one of the alternate definitions in the Greek dictionary says of poie,w, “[an action] of the natural process of growth; in plant life send out, produce, bear, yield [fruit]” So, in Greek, you would say that a tree does fruit; because that’s what a tree does. So what Jesus says is that the one who yields the will of His Father in heaven like a tree yielding fruit is the one who enters the kingdom of heaven.
As a Tree Is Known by Its Fruit, So a Christian Is Known by what He Yields
Our Lord begins this teaching with a warning: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v 15).
False prophets are prophets of Satan, the father of lies, but they don’t always appear to be that way. Sure it’s easy to identify the devil’s doctrines when an outspoken atheist preaches them on TV, or a satanic cult sets up shop in some remote compound. But the devil doesn’t win many converts that way. If he showed himself as he is, no one would believe a single word he said.
But, as St. Paul writes, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). And it should come as no surprise that the prophets and preachers he sends out are wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing.
These preachers of deception have mastered the art of sounding just Christian enough to grab your ear, then insist that you depart from God’s Word and from faith. They will tell you that faith alone resting on God’s Word alone is not enough to enter into God’s kingdom. They’ll tell you that you need to penance for your sins. Or they’ll tell you that your Baptism with water wasn’t enough—you have to be baptized with the Spirit. Or they’ll tell you that a true Christian will see abundant blessings in his life, and if you aren’t, you’re not believing hard enough.
How then are you, one of the flock of Christ, to recognize when a wolf comes to you dressed as a sheep? “You will recognize them by their fruits,” Jesus says, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (v 16). The fruit of a prophet is his preaching, and if that preaching departs from the Word and will of God, then he is a false prophet.
Our Lord also says through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophecy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord…But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer 23:16, 22). A true prophet is one who delivers the council of God, namely repentance. If your preacher does not preach repentance, if he does not warn you to turn from your evil ways, if he does not turn you toward the Word of God, then he is a false preacher. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer 23:29).
Just as a preacher is known by the fruit of his preaching, so also is a Christian known by what he yields. “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” (vv 17-18).
The same disease that produces rotten preaching in prophets also yields bad, evil fruit from a Christian. And that disease is original sin.
The world thinks of sin as being a couple of bad fruits hanging from an otherwise good tree; that is, sins are the occasional bad things done by otherwise good people. But our Church confesses against the world, “This hereditary [original] sin is such a deep corruption that no reason can understand it. Rather it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture” (SA III.II.3).
Yet the solution to the disease that corrupts us isn’t to become a better person and do more good deeds. That’s like trying to cure a dead tree by tying fresh fruit onto its branches. Soon you’ll have both a dead tree and rotten fruit.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (v 21a). If this warning doesn’t frighten you a little then you’re not listening. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy 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’” (vv 22-23).
What Christ is teaching here is that if works are done without faith, they are stinking, rotting fruit. Our confessions call these works ex opera operato, by the work, the work is done. For example, it had been taught, and still is in parts of Christendom, that the mere act of sprinkling water on a baby and invoking the name of the Trinity merits grace. Yet our Church rightly teaches that the work itself does not merit grace. Rather faith believes and grabs hold of the promises contained in the water and the Word.
Jesus says that the one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is “the one who [yields] the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v 21b). The will of the Father is that you turn from your evil ways and place your trust fully and completely on His Word. This is faith: clinging to the Word of God. And His Word promises to draw out the disease that so deeply corrupts and transform dead wood into living branches anchored in the tree of the cross and the One who hung upon it.
This Word and will of God will yield a harvest of good works in you—but they are works motivated by faith and the Gospel. And then on that last day when Jesus will return to judge both the living and the dead, He will say to you, “Welcome to the kingdom of heaven.”
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user mpourdeh.