Jesus said “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15–23)
What kid has not been told to not take candy from a stranger or get into their car? It’s a gut-wrenching experience to explain to children that not everyone is nice, and that sometimes big people hurt little people. Because as much as we would like to shelter our children, and calm their fears, we also need to teach them slowly, and carefully that evil does exist in the world. They need to be cautious, even suspicious, there are wicked men who would harm children.
This is why we have fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretal. Because wolves and cananbalistic witches actually do exist. None of us live in the world of the Andy Griffith show. The town of Mayberry, as much as it appeals to our ideals or nostalgia, is not a real place.
But of all the dangers and threats that do exist, it’s those in places of public trust and authority that can do the greatest harm. In our second reading, our epistle text St. Paul warns the congregation to pay careful attention to the flock. Paul warns them the fierce wolves will come in, who will twist the word of truth, all to titillate their itching ears. In other words, Paul warns them not to take candy from strangers.
Jesus warns us tonight that we know a false preacher from his fruit. Which is to say, we do not judge by appearances or popularity but by comparing what is preached to the Word of God – the Bible. So if a slick preacher comes along and preaches that your going to have your best life now or how to be happier 7 days a week. Beware!
Sure it sounds good but measure everything against what we learn in the Gospels and New Testament. Biblical, historic Christianity is never found on the new York times best seller list.
And so it is that we measure everything we hear from God’s Word alone. We identify false prophets by the fruit of what they speak. Even when we hear a sermon we compare it to what we actually hear in God’s Word. We don’t ultimately trust presidents, popes, governors, village presidents or even LCMS pastors. They can all error. They all sin. They all are capable of letting you down.
And yet our greatest struggle is with the ravenous wolf inside all of us. Because we can all be modern day jeckel and hydes. A lamb one minute and a wolf the next. The sinful flesh is weak. Anger can get the best of us. Husbands can be unkind. Wives can be loveless to their husbands. Children can be disrespectful to parents. Students at school can be cruel to one another and tear each other to shreds. Ever since Eve took the candy from the strange intruder, self-interest has reigned supreme and we and others suffer for it.
Yet into this fallen world God sent his son to raise us up. And He comes to you not as a ravenous wolf, but as gentle as a Lamb, a child born of a virgin mother. A Savior wrapped in human flesh, bearing your sin, and the wickedness of this whole world gone awry. He is your Good Shepherd and protector precisely because he lays down his life for you. Jesus tells us tonight that a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit but just look at him dying on the cross. His arms stretched out in love like the limbs of a tree. In this diseased tree he does the impossible – from the awful scene of Calvary this tree of death becomes a tree of life – and paradise is restored before our very eyes. A diseased tree cannot bear good fruit but look at what the Roman centurion does. He takes his spear and plucks the side of Jesus and out pours the very fruit of life. Water and blood – forgiveness and eternal life – a gusher of pure mercy and grace. Kneel at the foot of the cross – the tree of life - and behold the salvation of the world. Bask in his undeserved love – baptismal waters cover you. Yours sins are forgiven. It’s free. It’s finished. The old infernal wolf has been cast down.
In judgment you won’t be cut down and thrown into the fire with him. He won’t say “I never knew you…depart from me.” Rather, He will call you by name. He will gently rouse you from your peaceful sleep and lift you from your grave. He will say I have known you and loved you from before the foundation of the world.
You belong to Him and have a place in His Kingdom. A place much safer than Mayberry and much happier too. The book of Revelation says that streets are actually paved with gold. Can you imagine that? The streets are paved with gold. There is no need for the sun because the light of Christ illumines the whole city. The angels will serve you. The saints will join you. The heavens are opened to you.
So rejoice. Bask in the safety and love of God. Little Red riding hood escapes the wolves and so will you. Hansel and Gretal return to their father’s house for a joyful homecoming and so will you. Safe and sound in the Kingdom of God. In the name of Jesus. Amen.