Audio Player Audio Player
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Do you know why it is that you need to come to church every week to hear the preaching of the Gospel? It’s not to make me happy or even to make God happy with you. In large part it’s because the world is preaching to you a counter-Gospel every single day of the week, and you need to be strengthened and built up and defended against that. It’s not like if you don’t go to church you won’t hear preaching. Worldly philosophies and theologies are being directed at your ears wherever you are–work, home, school, recreation. And if all you’re hearing are the pop-culture sermons of the world, pretty soon you’re going to start to be led astray from the truth of Christ. Don’t be naive about this. Every time you watch a TV show or movie, you’re being preached to–there will be some morality, some worldview that is being pushed on you with compelling visual imagery. Every time you listen to music or go to some concert or entertainment venue, you’re being preached to and marketed to and spun with all sorts of emotional hooks. There’s a way of understanding life and spirituality and what’s good and bad that’s inherent in all of these things–and that understanding is often laced with ideas that are against God’s Word. Don’t be deceived. In this present darkness, hearing the preaching of God’s Word once a week seems to me to be pretty much a bare minimum.
Jesus makes it very clear that we should take the danger of the world’s false preaching very seriously when He says, “Beware of false prophets.” That word “Beware” is the equivalent of a road sign with flashing red lights. “Danger!” “Watch out!” He wouldn’t warn us so seriously like that unless the threat were real and important to be alert for.
That road sign Jesus gives us is a reminder that there are two paths that you can take in this world, and only one leads to life. The road that leads to destruction is wide and broad and feels right. It is the path of least resistance, the path that most everyone is taking. It is the way of doing what is easy rather than doing what is right, pleasing people rather than pleasing God, loving yourself more than Him. But like drivers ignoring a “Bridge Out” sign, this road only leads people over a cliff.
The path of life, on the other hand, is narrow and difficult and is often contrary to what feels right. It involves going against the flow, following the Word of God and not the crowd. The way of life is narrow because it is found exclusively in Christ who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This path is difficult because it is the way of the cross, dying to the self so that you might have real life through faith in Him.
Jesus is reminding us, then, that there will be those along your journey who will seek to lure you off the narrow way. They will speak false things to you to divert your attention from Christ and His unchanging truth. They will say, “Surely there has to be more than one road to everlasting life. All religious roads lead to heaven, as long as you’re a good person. Don’t be so narrow minded. As long as a person’s spirituality fills their needs and makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone, what’s the problem?”
You know you’re being tempted by the spirit of false prophecy when your biggest fear is being accused of being judgmental; when you tell yourself that it’s not your place to speak the truth in love, even to a close friend or family member who needs to be called to repentance about their open sin–their destructive gossiping, their failure to come to church, their sleeping together with their boyfriend or girlfriend. No, better just to keep the peace and not rock the boat and hope that they’ll magically return to Christ apart from His spoken Word. But all you’re doing by that is showing that you love God less than you love your relationships with those people. And in fact it’s not really showing love to those people, anyway, to ignore unrepentant sin which invites God’s eternal judgment on them.
Beware of false prophets and false teaching. So how do you recognize a false prophet? The first thing to understand is how Jesus says that they come to you in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they come looking like one belonging to the Good Shepherd, like fine, pious, upstanding people you should be paying attention to. But inwardly, Jesus says, they are ravenous wolves. They want to take the sheep from their Shepherd and devour them. The devil comes as an angel of light, and so do false preachers. The thing that makes a lie powerful is when it masquerades as the truth.
This is a reminder to us, then, that false prophets aren’t only outside of the church; they’re on the inside. Female “clergy” are fairly easy to identify, though they wear the sheep’s clothing of the collar and the robe; God clearly forbids women’s ordination in His Word. A woman can’t be a pastor any more than a man can be a mother–though that certainly doesn’t stop the world from trying, in both cases. But the truth is that throughout history most of the false prophecy and false teaching that has threatened the church has come from men who are properly called and ordained pastors. St. Paul said to the pastors in Ephesus that some from among them would rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away followers after themselves. Jeremiah said that these prophets, be they men or women, speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. They don’t preach the truth but what the people want to hear. They are without the true teaching of Christ, in which alone there is salvation.
That’s ultimately how you can tell a false prophet from a true one, not by the wonders he can do or his charisma or success, not even by how loving he is, but by what he teaches, whether it is the Gospel of Christ’s freely given grace or something else. Jesus says, “By their fruit you will know them.” The fruit refers not to their deeds (which can deceive) but to their doctrine. What spiritual food do they offer? What do they hold forth for your souls to feast upon? I John 4 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It is written in 2 John, “Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.” “By their fruits you will know them.”
So in the midst of all the religion talk and God-talk that you hear, ask yourself, is the focus on me, or is it on what Christ has done for me? Is it about how I can have a better life in this world and find self-fulfillment and happiness through my own spirituality, or is it about how I can have a new life in Jesus solely through His suffering and death and resurrection?
And if you want to know whether a teacher is true or false, just ask yourself: Does he direct me to the shifting sands of my own decisions and commitments, or does he direct me to the solid rock of Christ’s commitment to me and His sure baptismal promise which I have been given? Does he direct me to my own efforts and works to be saved from hell or purgatory, or does he direct me to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross? Does he only speak of things in mystical, spiritual terms, or does he emphasize the concrete realities of the faith, that Christ took on our flesh and blood as a true man, that He was raised from the dead in the body, that He comes to us now with His true body and blood for our forgiveness in the Sacrament, that we will be raised bodily on the Last Day?
Jesus said, “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 Him who is speaking these words. Jesus 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 be saved, 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 Him and literally stake your life on Him. He alone is the way into the kingdom of heaven, He who is fully God and fully man, made flesh, who was crucified, resurrected, and ascended for the salvation of sinners. The will of God is fulfilled in Jesus for you.
So beware of false prophets who teach something different than the faithful pattern of Scriptural words that you’ve been given in the catechism and the creeds; beware of those whose teaching doesn’t square with the liturgy and the preaching of the Word 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. Take refuge in Him, give attention to His words. Living in the gift of your baptism, follow that narrow way of Him who is Way, the Truth, and the Life. In Him you are safe.
For the good tree in the Gospel that bears good fruit is the cross on which Christ hung. 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 not a wolf in sheep’s clothing; He 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. The wolf has been conquered. Sin, death, and the devil have been undone for you. Believing in Christ, taking refuge in Him, you are saved and safe forever from all the lying counter-Gospels that are out there. As St. Paul said, you are the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood. You belong to Him.
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. Jesus is your true Prophet and the fulfillment of all prophecy. By His fruits you will know Him.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠