He Looks Better than He Preaches

Eighth Sunday after Trinity
St. Matthew 7:15-23
July 17, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

When Frodo Baggins first encounters the mysterious Strider at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring, his friends are not so sure. They had recently been spooked by and narrowly escaped riders dressed all in black, and one look at this rough character who was overly interested in the short hobbits made them want to take off. But Frodo responds, “You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.” Strider responds, “I see. I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”

This is what your mother taught you when she reminded you that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. First impressions mean a lot, but often times they are completely deceiving. Jesus warns us about being hasty to judge based on outward appearances. This is especially true with preachers. There is one way to tell a true prophet, and it’s not the way he looks.

Beware of False Prophets Who Look Better than They Preach

I.

Every hair in its place, held with just the right amount of styling product. Skin immaculate with just a touch of makeup to hide the blemishes. Teeth so straight and white that they all but sparkle when he smiles. Body sculpted by a private Crossfit trainer. $1,000 suit pressed just right, or maybe a designer graphic tee with jeans ripped in just the right spot. It takes a lot of time, work, and money to look good.

But looks can be deceiving. Anyone with time, work, or money can put on a façade of good looks, but that doesn’t mean that what he says is any good. Conversely, a man who’s aging, overweight, slightly balding, and fashionably unkempt may have a mouth of gold. A good preacher may be rough around the edges, but from his mouth comes the voice of the Shepherd.

Be on guard from the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are savage wolves; from their fruits you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? In the same way every good tree bears healthy fruit, but the rotten tree bears evil fruit. A good tree is not able to bear evil fruit, nor a rotten tree to bear healthy fruit. (vv 15-18).

Jesus says that you will recognize false prophets (i.e. preachers) by their fruits. But a preacher’s fruit isn’t what he wears or how he looks, or even how he conducts himself in life. If you want to extend the tree analogy further, those sorts of things would be more like the bark of a tree. The bark might look good on the outside, but inside is a rotting disease the produces nasty fruit.

The fruit of a preacher is the content of his preaching. A good measure to begin with is to listen for the preacher to mention Jesus. Right off the bat you’ll eliminate a good number of sermons that claim to be Christian. How can it be Christian if it never once mentions the Christ?

But simply mentioning Jesus is not enough. The second measure is to see if Jesus is running the verbs. Is Jesus the active one, or the passive one? Is He the one who’s waiting around for you to come to Him, to search for Him, to reconcile yourself to Him, to serve Him, to praise Him? If so, it doesn’t matter how much the preacher mentions Jesus, it’s not the Jesus of the Bible. It’s a Jesus of the preacher’s own invention. It sounds like a Christian sermon, but it’s a sermon that doesn’t preach Christ. It preaches you as the author and finisher of your own salvation, and Christ is robbed of His glory as Savior.

A third measure, after mentioning Jesus and He running the verbs, is: what verbs is Jesus doing? Is He loving, humbling Himself, suffering, dying, rising, forgiving, renewing, reconciling? Or is He demanding your works and tribute? Is He simply setting an example? By their fruits you will recognize them.

On the other hand, the rough-around-the-edges preacher isn’t a lot to look at, but he speaks as a true shepherd. All that is gold does not glitter.

II.

This rule is established not be some cosmic trick of the universe, or some incomprehensible spiritual force, but because of the nature of our true Prophet, Jesus Christ. In Him resides all of the fullness of the Deity, bodily (Col 2:9). But you can’t tell by looking at Him. In life, Jesus was just an ordinary man, nothing special. He had no majesty that we should behold Him, no beauty that we should desire Him. And in death it was much worse. He was stricken by God, smitten, and afflicted. He was despised by men and beaten to a bloody pulp. And then He was hung up on a tree stripped of all its beauty and fashioned into a cross. All because of the golden words that He spoke.

But it’s here where we see the most beautiful Savior. Not because of His fine clothes, not because His hair was perfectly styled, not because of a winning smile or a perfectly sculpted body. Because on the cross, we see Him as the Lamb who was slain.

And that ugly tree of death and instrument of torture becomes a Tree of Life with Jesus on it. All disease and death and rot is cured by the fruit borne by that tree. The precious blood that He shed is the content of all goodness and health because the blood means forgiveness.

And now in new life, risen from the death, He still bears the marks of that fruitful tree. His open hands and side show that forgiveness still flows from Him, just as the blood and water flowed from His pierced heart. Again and again, day after day, the fruits of His cross and passion are delivered to you by a sheepdog who has been called and ordained to announce the grace of God unto you all, to wash you with baptismal waters, to feed you with the cross’s fruit—the body and blood of Jesus.

III.

The healthy-tree rule applies to you also. When you eat of the fruits of Jesus’ death and resurrection by believing in the forgiveness that He declares, your healing doesn’t begin on the outside, but within. He renews you beginning with your heart. The outward form is wasting away, like old bark chipping away from the tree trunk. But the new health is evident in your own fruits—fruits of the Spirit.

In place of malice is love; in place of despair, joy; in place of anxiety, peace; in place of anger, patience; in place of spite, kindness; in place of evil, goodness; in place of harshness, gentleness; in place of lust, self-control. Where these things are present, there has Christ begun His work in you by the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s difficult to see—at times nearly impossible—but faith believes that the healing has begun, new life is started.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA