Jesus’ command to beware of false prophets isn’t a suggestion, it’s the most necessary thing in the world, like drinking water and eating food. It’s necessary for your life. Jesus calls false prophets ravenous wolves. Ravenous in the Greek is harpages, the word for a snatcher, someone that takes away, steals. And Jesus calls them this because false teachers snatch faith away, steal it from your hearts. Now this is a deeply personal thing. Both to you and to God. To rob your faith away is to rob you of being a human in the truest sense of the word, the creation of God made in His image to love Him and trust in Him and know Him and live with Him forever. And so when Jesus commands us to beware of false teachers, He’s speaking from His heart to ours, as a father pleads with his son not to ruin his life with drunkenness and drugs and fornication. Jesus is jealous of us. And it’s a beautiful jealousy. He wants our happiness. We are His creation. He wants us with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit in eternal joy forever. And the devil wants us with himself in the misery of hell. That’s the reality of your life. Jesus, immediately before our lesson for this morning, says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” What this narrow way is, this narrow gate that leads to life, without any doubt, is Jesus. He says it Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” He says, “I am the door of the sheep.” He is the narrow way.
The devil can’t destroy Jesus. Obviously. Jesus is God. The devil tried through temptation and then through Herod and Pilate and the leaders of the Jews, through death and suffering and crucifixion. “The foe in triumph shouted, when Christ lay in the tomb.” But it was precisely in His death that Jesus destroyed death, that He crushed the head of the serpent, and opened the way to everlasting life. The devil can’t touch Jesus in his person; He can’t destroy the way to everlasting life. So he attacks us. He attacks our Lord’s treasure. He attacks that which links us to our God and makes us own Him as ours. And that’s our faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. You corrupt the Word, you teach lies in place of the Word that brings Jesus, and you destroy faith. That’s the devil’s goal. And it’s personally directed against you. It’s why the way to heaven is called difficult. Not because we have to work for it. Jesus gives it freely. He bought it with His own blood. But because the devil works against it with his lies.
And Jesus takes this personally. He wears your flesh, He suffered your death, He bore your sins, He sought you out and made you a Christian, He has spent His life and His honor and His glory on you, to make you His own and have you with Him forever. And so, He hates false doctrine. He hates all lies about God. He can’t stand anything that would tear us away from Him. This is why He warns us and pleads with us to pay attention to His warning. Beware of false prophets. Have this mind in you which is also in Christ Jesus. Take it personally as your Savior does.
Now the devil has a two-pronged attack. He tries to steal the faith away from us in two ways, with two kinds of false prophets. He attacks openly and he attacks in disguise. With other religions, with the religion of our day, which people try to call neutral or secular, but is obviously a religion, where Jesus is brushed aside, where the Bible is called myth, and instead people believe in an ever-changing “scientific” or “academic” consensus, here we are dealing with an open attack. So the open promotion of homosexuality, the promise that a man can change his sex to be a woman and vice versa, the teaching of evolution where the Creator becomes irrelevant or non-existent, the explanation of death as the circle of life and not the result of sin, these are all open attacks on Jesus as Lord openly promoted in our schools and universities and laws and all over the media. Thousands of politicians, thousands of professors and teachers, thousands of reporters are intent on teaching this false religion to you and your children. And they use your tax dollars to do it. This is as open an attack as there is on the Lord Jesus. And we need to realize this and teach ourselves and our children to recognize these open attacks on Jesus and beware of these false prophets. But it’s not this open attack that Jesus is warning against here in our Gospel. Jesus warns against the subtle attack, the disguised attack of those who call Him Lord, pretend to be Christians, wear sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
That being said, we’ve entered into a strange time. The open attack is sometimes hard to distinguish from the subtle attack today. That’s because churches who claim to be Christian – the ELCA, the PCUSA, the UCC, most of the United Methodist Church in America, the Episcopal Church – have simply adopted wholesale the world’s opinions. Even the Roman Catholic Church has adopted the theory of evolution as its own and dressed it up a bit with God language. But the liberal Protestants go further. They promote not only evolution, but homosexuality, abortion, transgenderism, socialism, fornication. They make the category of sin meaningless. They attack the Bible as if it contains errors. And they do it all in the name of Jesus, while doing away with the need for Jesus. It’s messed up. The world promotes the exact same things against Jesus, but these so-called churches promote these lies and use Jesus’ name to rubber stamp it. This is the worst kind of hypocrisy, the worst breaking of the second commandment. And these false prophets actually succeed, and this is common, they succeed in convincing people that they can be good Christians and still live in what the Bible calls open sin. St. Paul says, If you live according to the flesh you will die. They say, live according to the flesh because God made you that way. This is why Jesus stresses, not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s why we cannot be churches who believe uncritically everything a pastor may say. Judge by God’s Word, by the Bible, hold your pastors to it, make sure that they preach it purely, so that they never hear those awful words, “Depart from me, you worker of lawlessness,” but instead hear the beautiful words of our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Really all false teaching in the church is taking over the world’s false teaching. Think of it. Who teaches that babies don’t have faith and shouldn’t be baptized? Jesus doesn’t. John the Baptist leapt in the womb filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus invited infants to Himself and blessed them and expressly said they believed in Him. The Psalmist confesses, “You made me believe while on my mother’s breast.” “From my mother’s womb you have been my God.” That’s the truth. So where does the Baptist and the Protestant, even the conservative ones, where do they get their teaching that babies can’t believe and shouldn’t be baptized? Well, if it’s not from Jesus, it’s from the world. The same goes with the teaching that Jesus’ body and blood aren’t present in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Where did false teachers get the idea that it isn’t Jesus’ body and blood, when Jesus expressly says it is, and the Bible repeats it four times? Obviously not from Jesus. Beware of false prophets. They snatch faith away. The source of all false teaching, whether it’s obvious or not, whether it’s being taught in the world or in the church, is the devil. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Beware of the really bad false prophets.” He says beware of false prophets. He paints it as black and white. He doesn’t want us listening to the devil’s lies, period. Remember He’s a jealous God.
And why is He jealous? Because He loves us. And He wants to comfort us with the truth. False comfort is useless and embarrassing. St. Paul says as much, “If Christ is not risen then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain.” He insists that we are most to be pitied if we comfort ourselves with false nonsense. The secularists and Bible-denying churches can comfort themselves with false hope, as if God wasn’t serious when He said, “Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Or as if Jesus didn’t say, “Be perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect,” or as if the Psalmist didn’t confess, “The Lord is angry with sinners every day.” They can with John Lennon imagine there’s no hell below us. They can imagine the heaven of everyone’s dream is their inalienable right or that we become cute little angels when we die, but it’s all devoid of certainty, all vain and empty hope, with no foundation. Sin and death and hell can’t be imagined away.
But you who listen to the Word of Jesus know the truth that sets you free. You know a hope that is grounded in reality, in history, in the truth of Christ risen from the dead, after being bruised for your trespasses. You know the guilt of sin, because you’ve experienced it; you know the pain of death, that it can’t be explained away by fanciful dreams; you know that you require a Savior who is just as real as the anger of God against sin; just as real as the death that awaits you and steals your loved ones away; just as real as the hell that is threatened on every sinner. And this is why Christ commands you to contend for the truth. That’s what He’s saying in the end, when He says to beware of false prophets. Cling to the truth. Love it. Because the truth of Christ’s life for you, His suffering for you, His conquering of death in His resurrection, His holy sacraments, answers every reality of sin and death and pain. Because Christ is risen.
And it’s only on this foundation that you can build lasting and certain convictions. Jesus warns not to build a house on the sand. The wind and waves will come and destroy it. Build your house on the solid rock. Build it on Jesus and His every word. And the wind and waves of this world will hit it and molest it, the false teachings, the pains, the sufferings, the doubts, but nothing will knock it down, because it stands on Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, who was first to break the bonds of death and who will come to judge the living and the dead. Every silly opinion of this world will fail. Their utopias will fade away like vapor, like a dream in the night. One little word will fell them. And every knee will bow to Jesus. And when my knee bows and when your knees bow, and we call out to Him, Lord, Lord, we will be calling out to the Lord who has been our true Prophet, who has never lied to us or deceived us, whose words are pure life, who was not playing when He baptized us and gave us His own Spirit, who meant it every time he placed His body and His blood in our mouth and united us to Himself in perfect union, who was sincere when He proclaimed by the mouth of our pastors that our sins are forgiven, gone forever, who died for our trespasses and was raised again for our justification, whose words and instruction have been our path and our way through this sinful world, who will in the end invite us into the joy of His Father, the joy He has shared with Him and the Spirit eternally, the joy that He gives us to taste of now in His Supper and that He continues to pray will be ours forever.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.