✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Jesus speaks a harsh truth at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading: most people are on their way to hell. Most people are going to be damned. I take no pleasure in saying that, but Jesus clearly teaches that when it comes to numbers, many take the broad way that leads to destruction; only a few find the narrow way that leads to life. And you don’t really want to believe that this is true. At the very least you try to ignore it. I know you do, otherwise you would behave differently. You wouldn’t live as if everything is going along fine with yourself and with the people you care about. You wouldn’t make excuses about them being absent from church and the saving gifts of Christ. There would be an urgency for the condition of their soul and their standing before God. But we are generally content just to keep the peace, to worry about financial matters and political matters and family matters more than spiritual matters.
That’s why Jesus gives us an urgent warning in today’s Gospel: Beware of false prophets! This world is crawling with those who make it seem that you’re odd if you’re not walking the broad path that most people are taking. The world is full of prophets like Jeremiah described who say, “No evil shall come upon you.” “You shall have peace.” “Pretty much everyone goes to heaven unless they’re just a horrible person.” Beware of who it is that you’re listening to. Always engage in spiritual discernment of what you’re hearing. Don’t assume that just because something isn’t explicitly theological that it doesn’t have implications for your faith and people’s spiritual welfare.
Never forget that even if a person doesn’t go to church, they’re still going to be hearing preaching every day. Every time you watch a TV show or movie or video on social media, every time you listen to music or a talk show or a podcast, or go to a concert or some entertainment venue, there will be some morality, some worldview, that is being pushed on you with disarming humor or compelling images or emotional rhetoric. The broad way preachers tell you that there are many different paths to the divine, that you must follow your heart and your dreams and your passions. Just believe in yourself and express yourself. Speak your truth and live your truth–as if there were more than one truth, no Truth that is higher than us regardless of what we think or feel, just the truth that supposedly flows from our hearts. But then there’s God’s Word which says, “The heart is deceitful and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus Himself said, “From within, out of the heart...come wickedness and deceit” (Mark 7:21-22). That’s no place to be looking for truth.
Beware of false prophets also in our education system. People falsely assume that because public schools are secular that therefore they are neutral with regards to our faith. But no school can exist without some sort of moral and spiritual worldview and framework. Setting up a system that explicitly excludes God from the conversation is itself a religious and theological position. That God-vacuum is going to be filled by something, usually a version of atheistic secular humanism. Especially in the upper grades and in higher education, we see the godless Marxist emphasis on understanding the world as a power struggle between various identity groups; we see the acceptance and even the promotion of gender and sexual deviancy; we see the overt mocking of Christian teaching. Christian parents spend thousands upon thousands of dollars sending their kids to secular universities, and unless there’s a good campus ministry and church for them to connect with, all too often they come home as very nice and slightly arrogant pagans. Martin Luther’s words are on target, “I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s Word becomes corrupt. . . I am afraid that the schools will prove to be the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”
And beware of false prophets especially in the church. In fact that’s the whole point of the wolves wearing the sheep’s clothing, so that they look like they belong in the church, pretending to be sheep of the Good Shepherd. The most dangerous false prophets are pastors whom people trust to give them the truth, but who instead speak a vision of their own hearts, not from the mouth of the Lord.
And in particular I am compelled today to speak out against a particular Christian group–not the followers of the pope with all his errors, not the evangelicals with their rejection of the Sacraments. I must today speak out against a group that calls itself Lutheran, the so-called Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA, the largest Lutheran body in this country. Just because a group calls themself Lutheran doesn’t mean that they are. And sadly, the ELCA is not. Their official teaching and practice stray far not just from what Martin Luther and the reformers taught and confessed, but from the Scriptures themselves.
In fact, the ELCA officially teaches that not all of the Bible is God’s Word. They say that some of it didn’t happen or is the product of human invention or is only the opinion of its writers, especially those they disagree with like the Apostle Paul. And how does one determine which parts are God’s Word and which parts aren’t? Well, I guess that’s yours to determine, which of course makes the Bible into bit of a wax nose. This turning away from God’s Word has led the ELCA to engage in the ordination of women, which the Bible explicitly forbids, since pastors are given to be icons of the man Jesus to His bride the Church. In the same vein, the ELCA has embraced same-sex marriages and homosexual clergy and transgenderism and much of the “pride” agenda against clear Scriptural teaching. On the day that the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, the head bishopress of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton even tweeted out a weasily pro-choice statement that justified the killing of unborn children. Their church health plan and therefore church offerings pay for abortions. It’s no surprise, then, that the ELCA has officially entered into communion fellowship with Protestant groups that deny the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament and with the Roman Catholic church which denies that we are declared righteous by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone apart from our works. The theology of the ELCA is more driven by the broad way of the culture than by the narrow way of Scriptural faithfulness. There may indeed be faithful congregations and faithful Christians within the ELCA--I don't want to be misunderstood about this--but we certainly shouldn’t assume that, especially since the body they are willingly a part of is so openly in rebellion against God’s Word. Beware of the ELCA. Beware of false prophets.
Always remember, whoever it is that you’re dealing with, it never is a loving thing to deny sin and treat it as if it’s OK. We think that’s the nice thing to do because it keeps the peace and makes people happy. But to deny sin is to deny the forgiveness of sins and the mercy of Christ which is at the heart of the Gospel and which we all so desperately need. And in the same way, it’s not helpful for people and church bodies to “agree to disagree” about what the Bible teaches and just go ahead and commune together anyway, as if the doctrine doesn’t really matter. To minimize doctrine is to minimize Christ who is the heart and center of all biblical teaching and doctrine. How is that loving? We are called to speak the truth in love. When we compromise Scriptural teaching, when we justify sin, we only show that we care more about what people think than about what God thinks.
So let us repent of our sin, and let us always keep the focus on Jesus and His words in our teaching and preaching. For He is the True Prophet and the fulfillment of all prophecy. He is Himself the narrow way which He calls us to enter by. For He said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This path is narrow and difficult because it is the way of the cross. It’s not about self-fulfillment, but sacrifice. It is the Way of Jesus who bore the cross for you so that you may follow Him through suffering to share with Him in the resurrection of the body. Jesus walked that narrow way of sorrows for you to Calvary. He died to take away your sins; He cleared the path and opened the narrow gate of faith in Him, so that you may have eternal life purely by His grace.
So in the midst of all the spirituality talk and God talk that you hear out there, ask yourself, is the focus on me, or is it on Christ and what He has done for me? Is it about how I can have a better life in this world through my own spiritual exercises and efforts, or is it about how I can have a new life in Jesus solely through His suffering and death and resurrection?
Remember the words of Jesus, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” And the will of the Father is all wrapped up and centered in Christ. He is the one who does the will of the Father perfectly. He is the One who prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done.” The will of the Father was that Jesus go to the cross to suffer and die as the ransom price to redeem you and save you. And so the will of the Father for you is that you trust in Christ and cling to Him alone for redemption and follow Him day by day in the callings He has placed you into. It is written in John 6, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” That’s what it means to do the will of the Father: to cling to Christ as the way of life, to believe in His words and stake your life on Him. He alone is the way into the kingdom of heaven, He who is fully God and fully man, who was crucified, resurrected, and ascended in the flesh for the salvation of sinners. The will of God is fulfilled in Jesus for you.
So beware of preachers who teach something different than this faithful pattern of Scriptural words that you’ve been given in the catechism and the creeds. Read the Scriptures, come to Bible class as a defense against the world’s false preaching and allurements. Beware of those who cast aside the liturgy for something that is more like a stage show, whose teaching doesn’t square with the words of divine service and the preaching that you hear in this place. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, just flee from them. And flee to Christ.
For the good tree in the Gospel that bears good fruit is none other than Jesus’ cross. As it is written, “Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness. By His stripes we are healed.” Jesus is a sheep in wolves’ clothing. He is the pure Lamb of God who allowed Himself to be cloaked in darkness and sin at Golgotha in order to put them to death in His body, so that you would be delivered from all evil. In Jesus the wolf has been conquered. Sin, death, and the devil have been undone for you. Taking refuge in Christ, you are saved and safe forever from all the lying anti-Gospels that are out there. You are the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood. Even when your feelings say otherwise, you belong to Him still; He will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing in all creation can separate you from His love.
Come, then, to the holy tree and receive the holy fruit of His blood and His body, which cleanses you of your sin and gives you everlasting life. By His fruits you will know Him.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠